Thursday, April 30, 2009

Radio/Podcasting -- Not quite the same

Mark Ramsey makes a good point in a Hear 2.0 post, entitled "Commercial Radio's Podcasting Myth."

The myth of [commercial radio] podcasting is that this long-form way is the way listeners want to consume our content simply because it’s the way they consume our content over the air – a context in which they have no choice in the matter, by the way.

Actually, they do have a choice – it’s to tune in and out, ever-hopeful for a “hit” or “highlight.” And tune in and out is exactly what they do.

When we transform the radio show to the podcast we are thinking about the medium all wrong. In an on-demand world for much of commercial radio, the unit of currency is not the “show,” it’s the “hit,” the “highlight.” Listening to radio over the air is as different from listening on-demand as an album is different from a song.
So let's take a look at our favorite case study, WJMA. They're part of the way there. Their news podcasts are short -- and that's good. But they're simply an excerpt from an on-air podcast -- and that's bad.

As Ramsey points out, podcasts are listened to -- and used differently -- than on-air content. A little bit of shaping would make these news podcasts work effectively as podcasts. They still need a quick intro, a graphic, and some helpful metadata (like station ID, contact info, etc.).

Different media, different requirements.

So we continue to day 26 of the WJMA Podwatch.

- Ralph

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Twitter Haters (Twaters) Unite!

Well, it's official. The Twitter phenomenon is over. I've been inundated all afternoon with copies of the new Nielsen study that showed problems with Twitter's "stickiness." According to David Martin, Nielsen Online's vice president for primary research:
"more than 60 percent of Twitter users fail to return the following month. Or in other words, Twitter's audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month's users who come back the following month, is currently about 40 percent."
One post said, "Twitter is a white hot's pretty hollow inside." Another compared it to the CB radio craze. The funny thing is, we've been here before -- and will probably be here again
Everyone who thinks Twitter is pointless is gleefully sharing this article -- those that can use e-mail, that is.

And that's really the point. If you're on the wrong side of the digital divide, it can be almost impossible to comprehend the value of this or any other Internet application.
Let's take a step back in time to when e-mail was new. What good is e-mail? If you only get spam or forwarded stupid jokes, then it isn't worth much. And you can't e-mail someone who doesn't have an account -- but you could call them, or even send a real letter. So why bother with it?
Because it's a useful business tool. Because archived e-mails are easier to search than paper documents. Because it's more economical than snail mail. Because it's faster than snail mail. And so on.

And yet we all know people who still have little or no use for e-mail. Even if they have accounts, they're seldom used. And if these folks really have to use it -- well, they sometimes need a little help. (How many company decision makers still rely on their assistants to handle the Interwebtubbie stuff?)

And Twitter's basically the same. Like e-mail, it's what you make of it. There's plenty of nothing being said on Twitter, but there are things of value going on, too. Businesses are using it to communicate with customers. Performing artists are using it to connect with fans. News organizations are using it for headline news feeds. And so on.

So all those Oprah fans who joined because she said to, looked at it, scratched their heads and then closed their accounts, don't matter much (in my opinion). If Oprah had told them to all buy Yankee screwdrivers they would have, and then placed the tools in closets or drawers where they would sit unused.

Because that's what Twitter is -- a communications tool. Like the Yankee screwdriver, it doesn't do all things equally well. But if you're a woodworker or fine furniture maker, there are times when no other type of screwdriver will do. And if you're running an Internet-oriented business, there are times when Twitter is ideal.

And is Twitter like CB Radio? Well, that was originally a communications tool also. Sure, it got to be a big fad in the late 1970's, and the on-air chatter eventually killed its effectiveness for professional truckers. But the concept's still around -- truckers now use cell phones for two-way communications, which filters out all that over-the-air noise.

Ditto with Twitter. You don't have to get updates from everyone in the world. Just the people (or businesses) you're interested in. That communications band can be as tightly focused as you want it to be.

Doesn't bother me that people are coming and leaving. I didn't follow them anyway (I suspect few did). I can talk to professional colleagues, post notices for upcoming business events, and do a little crowd-sourcing when necessary.

So please, twaters, stop with the article forwarding. I got it already. And what I really got is how much you don't get it.
- Ralph

Day 25 of the WJMA Podwatch. (No, they don't Twitter either.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Object Lesson #4 - Lionel's 752E and Its Owner

In previous posts we looked at a 1934 toy train and what it says about the technology of the day, the values of the culture, and how it functions in said culture. But there's one more thing this object can tell us -- the character of its owner.

Although I never met Ken's father-in-law, we can deduce a few things about him through this Lionel 752E streamliner. The train's set box has the name of the West Virginia department store it was shipped to (via Railway Express), so we know where he lived (Ken’s confirmed this). While we don’t know how much money he made, we do have some clues that he made some, but was careful with it.

As outlined previously, this train was a big purchase, and consequently its led a gentle life. The minor nicks and scratches on the body are simply evidence of a half-century of seasonal use.

Ken's father-in-law also purchased some accessories along the way. These aren’t top-of-the line, but they're the kind of inexpensive accessories that most any department or dime store. Mostly likely they were bought within a year or so of the train set. The lights currently with these accessories aren’t original – as they burnt out, the owner replaced them with Christmas lights.

It may have been possible to special order the correct lights, but using readily available holiday lights would have been a much more economical way to keep these accessories operational. And interestingly enough, not a lot else has been added to this set. The train came complete in 1934, and there are no additional cars or locomotives.

The scale of this set is pretty big. Lionel was transitioning to O-gauge (about 1:43 scale) from Standard Gauge (about 1:24 scale) moving from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. The trains were smaller, and for the most part more affordable. Most O-gauge trains could navigate a 34” diameter circle of track.

The articulated 752E couldn’t, though. It required a 72” diameter curve – a considerable space investment. We know the owner lived in a house with at least one room big enough to accommodate something this size (Ken says it was traditionally set up in the sun room). So the price tag and the space requirements suggest someone living in a fairly nice house or apartment.

I could go on with more details about the model itself, but that’s not the point here. This train set has a story to tell – just like many of the objects that surround us in our own homes. I wonder what stories they could tell?

- Ralph

Part 1: Lionel's 752E and Technology
Part 2: Lionel's 752E and Cultural Values
Part 3: Lionel's 752E and Its Function

Monday, April 27, 2009

Object Lesson #3 - Lionel's 752E and Its Function

Historical objects can tell us many things. We've seen how the Lionel train that belonged to Ken's father-in-law can tell us about the technological level of the times, as well as its cultural values. This time, we look at how its function also says much about traditions and daily life.

How it was used

So who did Lionel make this 752E Union Pacific streamliner for, anyway? In 1934 there was no law requiring that toys be labeled for age-appropriateness (another cultural difference). And perhaps it's just as well. Lionel offered many toy trains of varying sophistication and prices for different age groups. Many had toy-like proportions instead of the scale-model look of the 752E. Clearly, this was not a toy for everyone.

The original price tag was in 1934 for this train set was $34. Not a lot? The equivalent price today would be about $500. This was not something to purchase on a whim and hand over to a child to leave out in the rain. In the heart of the Depression, such a purchase was an investment – and Lionel meant for their Union Pacific streamliner to be a worthy one.

The 752E (like other Lionel high-end products of the day) was solidly constructed and built to last. At the time many of these trains were purchased for family Christmas displays (sometimes called putzes). This practice had its origins in the late 1800’s, and adding a circle of track and an electric train to an elaborate winter scene around the Christmas tree was a natural progression. (The concept of the putz lives on, witness the continued growth of Department 56 figures and buildings).

As with many holiday decorations, these trains were generally carefully unpacked and set up just for the season. Afterward, they were just as carefully repacked and stored away for the rest of the year.

Ken’s family train is no exception. This 734E is still stored in the original boxes it arrived in back in 1934. The train's clearly been run, and you can see some wear in the lettering where it was repeatedly handled throughout the years. But this was decidedly not an everyday toy (and perhaps not even considered a toy at all), but a valued object.

Many toy trains from before World War II tend to have similar stories. The more expensive ones are more likely to be found in their original boxes, and have evidence of wear and some scratches, but not hard use. Most damage comes from being stored in attics, where extreme temperature fluctuations fatigue the metals, or in basements, where moisture causes rusting over time.

Tomorrow: what an object tells us about its owner.

- Ralph

Part 1: Lionel's 752E and Technology
Part 2: Lionel's 752E and Cultural Values
Part 4: Lionel's 752E and Its Owner

Friday, April 24, 2009

Object Lesson #2 - Lionel's 752E and Cultural Values

This post we continue our look at Ken's father-in-law's train set. What can such an object tell us about the world it was made for?

Cultural Values

The reason Lionel chose to make this particular model was because of the immense popularity of the prototype. In the early 1930’s aircraft design had led the way with the concept of streamlining.

Soon all forms of transportation were adopting the concepts (and the look) of modern aircraft. Car fenders became smoother with fluted edges, while car bodies sported rounded corners and flowing lines.

Railroads looked into streamlining for two reasons: fuel efficiency (and therefore lower costs), and to counter the competition from airlines for the passenger business.

Lionel's version is very close proportionally to the prototype.
In 1934 the Union Pacific unveiled the “City of Salinas” M10000, a train billed as the future of railroading. Instead of a series of separate passenger cars linked together by couplers, the train was one long, integrated (and articulated) unit. Some called it an airplane fuselage on wheels, and the UP was glad for the association.

The M10000 was sent on an extensive goodwill tour across the country, and became the last word in modern rail travel for a while.

If you look carefully at commercial art of the day that celebrates progress, you’ll often see some version of the M10000 pictured alongside a fast-moving airplane, zeppelin, and steamship.

The body made of light-weight airplane-grade extruded aluminum, and coupled with its streamlined contour, made the M10000 one of the fastest trains in service.

By modeling the M10000, Lionel offered a product would have had a great deal of positive association to the general public.

Part 1: Lionel's 752E and Technology
Part 3: Lionel's 752E and Its Function
Part 4: Lionel's 752E and Its Owner

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Object Lesson #1 - Lionel's 752E and technology

Any object can be a historic artifact. It can tell you the technological level of the culture it was created in, the values of that culture, how the object was used, and something about the person who owned it.

Knowing my interest in such things, Ken recently brought in a toy train his father-in-law had purchased back in 1934. Here’s what that object has to say.

The toy train in question is Lionel’s 752E Union Pacific passenger set. It was modeled after a new streamlined train of the same name debuted by the Union Pacific.

Level of technology

When the Lionel made the Union Pacific streamliner in 1934, they used the most common materials for mechanical toys: metal.

The body is stamped sheet metal with a die-cast underbody and nose. Pretty much the only non-metal parts are the windows, which are celluloid (clear plastic hadn't been perfected yet), and the tiny colored headlamps. The lettering was all hand-stamped.

There's more to the technology story, though. The train’s illuminated interior is provided by miniature glass light bulbs -- (now we'd use LEDs). Power comes from an AC outlet and sent over the three rail track. The train draws power from the center rail through a sliding pickup shoe. Pretty sophisticated electronics for the time, and still basically the way electric toy trains work today.

What's different is the transformer. This particular set didn't come with one -- you had to buy it separately. The one in the box featured a sliding dial, along with a Lionel rheostat. At the time, toy train transformers were basically a series of posts with contacts on the top of the transformer box. You slid the dial from one post to the next to complete the circuit. Each post provided a different amount of constant power.

If you tried running a toy train with it, the effect was pretty much like driving by either jamming on the brake or the gas pedal – no in between. In order to have a continuous increase from low to high power, you set the level of current from the transformer, and then fed it through the rheostat and then to the track.

Very crude by today’s standards, but state-of-the-art in 1934!

Part 2: Lionel's 752E and Cultural Values
Part 3: Lionel's 752E and Its Function
Part 4: Lionel's 752E and Its Owner

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Joan Woodbury and A Walking Nightmare

"A Walking Nightmare" (AKA "The Living Ghost") is a 1942 Monogram Pictures production, starring B-movie headliner, Joan Woodbury. I've been having fun uncovering movies by this under-appreciated actress and have always been rewarded with a good viewing experience.

Woodbury had real screen presence, and "A Walking Nightmare" is perhaps the best I've seen her (so far). The plot involves a murder mystery, but not really much of one.

Prominent banker Walter Craig disappears and eventually returns with his mind temporarily fried (there's some bafflegab psychology, but it's one of those medical conditions devised solely to serve the plot). 

Who could have done such of thing? And why? There's plenty of suspects in the banker's mansion, including his wife, his friend, business partner, secretary, daughter, daughter's fiancee, etc.

But the mystery isn't really the point of the film. It merely provides the backdrop to the real story, which is mordantly tart banker's secretary Billie Hilton (Joan Woodbury) caustically observing the investigation by detective Nick Trayne (James Dunn). During the course of said investigation, (of course) they fall in love. Actually, Trayne falls first. It takes Hilton a lot longer (the rest of the film) to figure it out. 

Woodbury and Dunn have a real chemistry, and a both have a flair for comic timing, which makes this light-weight film so entertaining. Hilton and Craig's friend Ed Moline (Paul McVey) come to Trayne's office to persuade him to take the case.

Since Trayne has quite being a detective, Moline suggests to Hilton that doubting his talent will get his friend to take the case out of wounded pride. Hilton gives as good as she gets -- and then some. 

Woodbury wasn't Bettie Davis or Katherine Hepburn by any means, but in this movie, she more than rises to the occasion. "Walking Nightmare" runs a little over an hour, and originally was meant to be sort of the warm-up picture to the feature presentation at a Saturday matinee.

It's light, breezy fun with Woodbury and Dunn keeping things humming along. And there's even a short bit by double-talk artist Danny Beck. Double-talk was a form of humor that flourished very briefly in the 1940's. The art was to string together nonsense syllables that almost sounded like words.

For an hour's entertainment, I recommend "Walking Nightmare" over a third viewing of "Law and Order" any day.

 - Ralph

Day 16 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Podcast Review: Naxos Classical Music Spotlight

The more you have to work with, the easier it is to produce quality content. And that's pretty much the case with the Naxos Classical Music Spotlight. Host Raymond Bisha takes a recent release from the Naxos catalog (and sometimes from one of their distributed labels) and showcases it in this podcast.

Bisha's an accomplished host and producer -- not surprising from a former CBC broadcaster. In the general course of the program, Bisha plays excerpts from the featured recording interspersed with helpful commentary (and sometimes interview segments with the artist).

Bisha has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, as well as finely tuned sense of humor. The result is a presentation that personable, informal, and packed with rock-solid information.

So what did I mean about quality content? Well, Naxos has been the number one classical record label in the world for some time now, and just celebrated the release of their 30,000th CD. And it's not multiple recordings of the same old warhorses (like the major labels). Instead, Naxos has been releasing CDs covering all style periods, as well as most countries whose composers write in a classical style.

"Naxos Classical Music Spotlight" isn't a hard sell -- Bisha talks about the recording, plays some excerpts, and lets the listener judge for themselves. Whether you know a lot about classical music, or want to get started, the "Naxos Classical Music Spotlight" is a great place to start.

Be warned, though, it can be expensive. I can trace at least 12 purchases directly back to this podcast!

(And remember -- you don't need an iPod to enjoy a podcast; just a computer.)

- Ralph

Day 15 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

FM + iPod, Part 2: It's not just me.

I've already expressed my opinion about the NAB's request to Apple that they start putting FM tuners into iPods. Mark Ramsey, in a recent Hear 2.0 post approached it from another direction by asking an important question:

Does society need radio?

The answer, quite clearly, is "no."

Society doesn't need radio, society needs what radio provides.

Can't argue with that. Ramsey then outlines what that means.

Society needs the comfort of our favorite songs. We need the real-time connection to our community (however we define "community"). We need to know what to wear today and whether or not school is canceled. We need to stay up to date or to revel in our past. We need to be outraged and informed and soothed and amused. We need to be told what to do in a crisis. We need to know what's on sale and where. And we need these things wherever we are - at home, at work, in the car, and on our hip.
OK, here's the problem. What can you do with an iPhone or an iPod touch with a Wi-Fi connection?

1) Listen to your favorite songs.
2) Have real-time connection with our community through Facebook, Myspace, Twitter (et al) widgets
3) Get weather updates.
4) Be outraged, informed, soothed and amused (through YouTube, news feeds, blog RSS feeds, etc.).

Not so sure about the crisis and sales, but you see the point. If these devices deliver these services already, what purpose is there in adding an FM tuner?

Ramsey concludes:
As an industry, radio needs to recognize that its social currency is in what it provides, not in the manner it provides it.
If radio moved into online media, then adding FM tuners to iPods and iPhones becomes irrelevant. Because then stations would have their content right where iPod and iPhone users expect to find it -- on the Internet. But I didn't hear the NAB talk much about that...

- Ralph

Day 11 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NAB: FM + iPod = ROFL

I understand why they asked. But I'm not sure they understand what they're asking.

For those who came in late, at the recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference, NAB President and CEO David K. Rehr shared a letter he sent to the COO of Apple, Timothy Cook.
"NAB would like to encourage Apple, as a recognized leader in both the mobile phone and portable music player arenas, to include FM radio as a feature in future iPhone and iPod products."
From the NAB's standpoint, this makes perfect sense. iPods currently enjoy about an 80% market share, and iPhones are currently the third most popular in the market -- which makes them as ubiquitous as transistor radios in the early 1960's. Of course, broadcasters would like to be included on these portable devices. As Rehr explains:

"Providing FM broadcast reception capability in mobile phones and portable music players creates multiple benefits for consumers as well as for the broadcasting, music and personal device manufacturing industries."
"I am certain [that FM radio stations] will eagerly support positive indications from Apple on the inclusion of built-in FM radio in future Apple products."
I'm sure they would. The NAB wants this feature added. But what about the consumer? The Zune has an FM receiver built in. So do most Sony MP3 players, and Creative MP3 players, Sandisk MP3 players, et al. (and notice how the FM tuner feature is all but buried in their presentations). And their combined market share is --? Well, combined, it would have to be about 20%.

The same folks that just know HD Radio will save the industry by winning back all of those satellite radio subscribers (sound quality trumps content, don'tcha know) believe that if they can but put an FM receiver in front of all those white ear budded masses, that their audience will return.

Except it won't. If FM radio was a feature in high demand, then the competitor's market shares would be higher. The MP3 player rose to prominence in part because it was a handy replacement for the radio. Why listen to a few songs you like, mixed in with songs you don't and long commercial spot sets when you can enjoy thousands of songs without commercial interruption hand-picked by you for you?

Now it's not to say that having a receiver wouldn't be handy. Some things you can't store on an iPod -- like a football game or a late-breaking news story. But then again, that's what RSS feeds are for, aren't they?

The iPod has moved beyond just music. It's a video player, a podcast aggregator, portable game console and photo album. And with wireless access, the iPod touch, and the iPhone also double as texting consoles , web browsers, and Internet radio receivers.

So where's the advantage of adding an FM receiver? It bulks up the electronics (at a time when iPods are becoming smaller and thinner), it adds to the cost, and it's another way to drains the battery. Stations point out that these devices could use iTunes tagging, but so what? With the iPhone, you can do the same thing with fewer clicks (and Apple doesn't have to share as much of the revenue).

I know why they had to ask, but I suspect only the NAB doesn't know what the answer has to be.

- Ralph

Day 10 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Podcast Review - Deutsche Welle: Inspired Minds

There was a time when NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" spent as much time covering the arts as they did politics and business. We still get a token story or two, but art coverage -- especially high art -- has long since been kicked to the curb by most public radio news providers.

Not so Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcasting organization. Their weekly program, "Inspired Minds" provides an in-depth interview with creative artists that seldom appear in American media. Each program host Breandáin O’Shea interviews (in English) an artist, writer, painter, dancer, ? or others in the performing arts. While there's some primary reason why O'Shea's talking to the artist (a performance tour, film festival, new play), there's another purpose as well.

"Inspired Minds" documents some aspect of the creative process that each of its interview subjects uses. What does Joshua Bell hope to accomplish through his performances? And how is that different than the goals of Zubin Mehta? How does Elizabeth George put together a novel, and is it the same as Michael Connelly?

And because the program isn't centered on America, or especially concerned about pop culture, we hear interviews with Swedish crime writer Asa Larrson, German jazz composer Klaus Doldinger, choreographer Gregor Seyffert, South African poet Lebogang Mashile, and more.

Best of all, the program lasts a full fifteen minutes. That means there's time for some intelligent conversation. There's time to discuss complex ideas. There's time to present a well-rounded portrait of the interview subject. There's time.

And because it's a podcast, I can listen to it whenever I want to. I've learned a lot about the arts listening to "Inspired Minds." And I look forward to discovering many more artists, writers, and performers I'll want to investigate.

Danke, Deutsche-Welle!

(And remember -- you don't need an iPod to listen to a podcast)

Day 9 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mantan Moreland and the Irish Luck

"Irish Luck" (1939) is not a great film -- but very few movies from Monogram were. But many of the productions from this B-picture studio are still very entertaining -- especially those with Mantan Moreland. (I've talked about this under-rated African-American actor before.)

In the late 1930's he was teamed with Frankie Darro for a series of films where they, in essence, played the same characters. Darro was the enthusiastic kid, always getting the pair in trouble by impulsively plunging into trouble. Moreland played the most level-headed of the pair, who was always dragged into predicaments by Darrow against his better judgement.

What I find interesting about these films is that Moreland is treated pretty much as an equal. In "Irish Luck" for example, Moreland plays a janitor (Jefferson) to Darro's bellhop (Buzzy O'Brien) -- both employed in menial jobs. And Jefferson's reluctance to go along with Buzzy's hairbrained amateur sleuthing has nothing to do with racial stereotypes of the day. He simply wants to keep his job and out of trouble with the police. In fact, Jefferson's relationship to Buzzy is very much like that of Ethyl Mertz to Lucy Ricardo.

The difference is that Moreland, a gifted comedian, gets all the best lines (many of which he either wrote or ad-libbed for himself).

This opening scene gives an idea of the movie's pacing. It's fast, glib, and never meant to be taken very seriously.

When we meet Jefferson, he's (as usual) helping out Buzzy who's taken it upon himself to single-handedly capture some crooks in the hotel. Buzzy's plan? Have Jefferson use a dummy to fake a suicide attempt so the hotel would be surrounded by police and firemen! Detective Steve Lanahan (Dick Purcell) at first treats Jefferson as a madman (but without racial condescension). When he finds out that the son of his dead partner's at it again playing detective, sparks fly.

Here's Mantan Moreland in a typical scene with Frankie Darro.

Here are Moreland and Darro towards the end of the film, when Jefferson's just about had enough of Buzzy getting them both into trouble.

"Irish Luck" was never meant to be anything more than a Saturday afternoon diversion. This breezy little mystery is about as challenging and fraught with danger as an episode of "Murder She Wrote." But the chemistry between Darro and Moreland make this (in my opinion) much more fun to watch.

"Irish Luck" is in public domain, and is readily available from Not a great movie, but not a bad one to have on your iPod to while away an hour.

- Ralph

Day 8 of the WJMA Podwatch. They added the word "news" to the title. Still not helpful, still not getting it. The watch continues....

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

WJMA, DCD Records, and the transparent podcast

I've spent a lot of time talking about WJMA's podcasts, pointing out areas where I think they might more effectively do their job. So what makes me such an expert? Fair question.

Well, since February 2006 I've been writing, producing, and hosting the podcast for DCD Records (where I serve as president and chief bottle-washer). Like WJMA, we're distributing "The DCD Classical 'Cast" podcast for a reason.

I want to reach classical music listeners (and more importantly, classical music buyers) in a way that's both economical and efficient. The goal of our podcast is to showcase the classical releases from the independent labels we carry on our website, raise awareness of our brand, and spur sales. Has it worked? I think so.

Let me take you behind the scenes a little and you can judge for yourself.

Format: The podcast is approximately 30-40 minutes in length. We play complete movements, but almost never a complete work. The idea is to whet the appetite, not satiate it. (Listen to our current episode, and you'll see what I mean).

There's always an "ad" in the middle of the podcast. I simply reminds listeners that everything they hear is available from, and if they type a certain code into the coupon field, they'll receive a ten percent discount off their order -- even if other special offers or discounts have been applied (sorry, I'm not going to provide the code here -- you'll just have to listen).

I also ID the podcast after every piece of music. Why? Because repetition is the key to memory. Over the course of a podcast, the listener will hear our brand name mentioned at least four times. After a while, it will stick.

Metadata: I want each episode to be as effective as possible, so I pay attention to the metadata. I make sure the following are filled in:

Name: DCD [three digit show number] - [show title]
Album: DCD Classical 'Cast
Year: [year of release]
Composer: [Me], host
Comments: This program we play: [composer - work]; [composer - work], etc.
Genre: Podcast

And yes, there's artwork attached.

Note the name. Even though we're only up to show #64, by using a three-digit number we ensure that the programs all line up properly in numerical order on media players and software. Without it, shows nos. 1,5, 10, 11, and 20 would line up as 1, 10, 11, 20, and 5.

And the choice of placing our e-mail address in the artist field was deliberate. If nothing else gets displayed, Name and Artist do. So I want the most important info front and center.

Distribution: We continue to seek out podcast directories to place our program with. You can find us on iTunes, InstantEncore, Feedburner, Mefeedia, Podcastblaster, Podcast Pickle, ZenCast, and many others. We also just recently set up a Twitter feed and a Facebook fan page to help generate interest in the podcast and our brand.

So what's been the result? Well, we started off with a monthly podcast and now produce an episode every two weeks because of a corresponding growth in audience. We've seen a definite link between product sold and product featured on the podcast. No, not everyone returns to our site to buy, but that's OK. Because we also have a store on Amazon, and we're the exclusive supplier of many of our labels to -- so chances are, if you're purchasing something we carry, we'll see some money from the transaction regardless of the site you buy it on.

Subscription rates (it's free, by the way) continue to grow at a steady rate, especially over the past year. We've had over 34,000 downloads, and currently average a little over 500 an episode (although our more popular episodes run into the thousands). Now granted, this is small potatoes compared to say, "This Week in Tech" or a more general interest podcast.

But classical customers only make up about 7% of the music-buying market. And this market's small in other ways, too. Many classical titles -- even from the major labels -- only sell a few thousand copies. Add to that the fact that public radio stations airing classical music have an extremely slow rotation -- it's not uncommon to have six months pass before a track is played again. And most classical record review magazines seem to average a circulation of only around 10,000 readers.

So given all that, I'm very happy to have placed our audio calling card/sales catalog directly into the virtual hands of 34,000+ potential customers (even if they only listen to the podcast once, it's still better than the odds for radio). And outside of the recording gear, there's been almost no expense, save time.

I don't have to eat the cost of promo copies and the postage to ship them to 100+ radio stations where they'll sit and gather dust. I don't have to pay for ads in magazines where at a good response rate of 3% I'm looking at an outside total of 30 sales -- doesn't even cover the cost of the ad. I don't have to bother with the expense of trying to place the product in the shrinking racks of record retail stores (nor worry what happens to my inventory when they file Chapter 11).

We're talking directly to our potential customers, and they're responding either through purchases on our site or through one of the sites we supply.

So that's where I'm coming from when I say that WJMA's podcasts aren't living up to their full potential. Even at this stage of the game, their subscription and download numbers should leave us in the dust. If they're not, then something is seriously wrong. Which is kind of my point.

- Ralph

Day 3 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

WJMA and the Online Opportunity

Stephen Baker's post "The Online Opportunity for Radio Stations" provides a lot of good information -- and not just for radio stations. Consider this:
Usability. Eliminate the clutter and focus on getting customers to relevant content quickly. I’m still amazed at the complexity and quantity of clicks required to get to target content.
It's making me take a hard look at our website. Can people quickly get to our content within a click or two? And ditto for our favorite subject case, WJMA. A lot of content is front and center on their homepage. And even their red-headed stepchildren (their podcasts) are only two clicks away. But wait -- there's more.
Aggregation. Success in the local market requires that publishers look beyond their own content for relevant stories and information in order to become a local online media hub.
Again, WJMA's site has a lot of potentials. The home page has a local news feed, community calendar, weather, etc. But let's look a little closer. Here's the "Local News" when I checked the site. "Obama in Baghdad" Huh? Is there a Baghdad, Virginia? That feed needs a little tighter focus.

Also, consider this:
Compelling content. Most news/talk radio stations produce extremely relevant content to our daily information needs - traffic, weather, sports scores, etc. - that drive our initial entry to the site and lead us to engage with additional content of interest.
OK, WJMA is technically a music station, but they do produce their own local news, so a lot of this still applies. There's enough of the above-mentioned content to get us to the WJMA site. But where's the additional content of interest? Take, for example, the community calendar. Click on the date, and the day's events pop up. Cool.

But there's no addition content and not a lot of information. For April 7, the event is simply:

"Spring Into Safety Health Fair"
Presented by Culpeper Regional Health System.

Two problems here. First, the link isn't in a different color. I discovered it lead to another page purely by accident. Second, there's no real information here. OK, there's something happening today somewhere in Culpeper. What's the location? What time? What's the theme? Details?

And the most important question, why do have I have to click through another page to get the information? (Remember Baker's recommendation for usability?).

So how does your site stack up? Compelling content, usability, aggregation. I don't have a radio station website, but Baker's post will make me take another look at our own site.

- Ralph

Day 2 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Monday, April 06, 2009

WJMA Podwatch -- Day One

Looks like it's time to start the WJMA Podwatch. Two weeks ago we offered up some suggestions to make the WJMA news podcasts more effective, both for the listeners and for the station. Simple fixes, really.

  1. Add contact and identifying info to the MP3's meta data.
  2. Add the date to the title so the podcasts would sort properly.
  3. Put in artwork for visual reference (and brand re-enforcement) and add an opener so we know who we're listening to and what they're talking about at the beginning of the podcast -- not at the end.

And after two weeks -- the podcasts are now dated. !?!?

Just doing the barest minimum doesn't help -- and this isn't really the barest minimum. So we'll start the clock and see how long it takes to make these MP3s useful to podcast listeners (who have different needs than radio listeners).

So why does this matter? Well, there are lessons to be learned here for any business with an online component (even those not considering podcasts). And a key one is credibility. Piedmont Communications (who own WJMA), addressing current and future advertisers in their blog said:

Using the web to market your business and sell your product can unquestionably be very effective…. Good web design and maintenance are pricey….we should know. We just completed a relaunch of the WJMA FM website. Once you’ve spent the money to gussy up your site, you’ve got to drive traffic to it in order for it to do you any good.

We feel like in our market, and with our listeners, we’ve got the franchise on emotive, engaging advertising that will make people want to visit your website, leveraging your ad dollars and web investment to create sales for you.

I totally agree. They got the concept.

But if I were a potential advertiser, I'd be looking at what Piedmont Communications is doing to drive traffic to their own website. It's the most effective way they can show their Interwebtube expertise -- and provide some hard numbers to their clients.

As Mark Ramsey said in a recent Hear 2.0 post:

The digital elements in [a station's] portfolio are not "non-traditional revenue," they are "new traditional revenue."... Every broadcaster should be restructuring from the ground up around digital opportunities, not simply tacking on digital strategies like so many strips of duct tape.

How well has WJMA incorporated the digital tools of their "gussied up" website into their product? Well, it took them 344 days to go from a placeholder to a functioning website again. Let's see how long it takes to bring their podcasts (which is just one part of their digital initiative) up to current practice. This is day one.

- Ralph

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

HD Radio Keeps Pushing the Rope Uphill

The HD Radio Alliance is at it again. They’re launching a new ad campaign to help education consumers. According to their press release,
“Research tells us that consumers think they are listening to HD Radio because the promos on the station say `broadcasting in HD Radio,’” a spokesperson said. The new ads “will continue educating consumers that they need a new receiver to enjoy the HD experience.” All ads therefore will incorporate the tag, “If you don’t have an HD, you’re not hearing HD. It’s time to upgrade.”
HD Radio technology was approved for use back in 2002. Let’s think on that a moment. Seven years later, people still don’t seem to know (or care) whether they're actually using this technology or not.

Bravely pressing on, the Alliance hopes to let radio listeners know that:
  1. If they don't have an HD Radio tuner, they're not getting HD Radio.
  2. They should get an HD Radio receiver because they're missing out on loads of fantabulous programming.
  3. They should get an HD Radio receiver because, unlike certain other kinds of media (read: satellite radio), it's free -- there's no subscription.
  4. They should get an HD Radio receiver because of the pure, digital sound.
So why is HD Radio still stuck at the starting gate after seven years? Well, primarily because of the stations. The networks weren't willing to invest in new programs until the receivers had reached market saturation. But why would you buy a special radio that only tunes in dead air?

For the past three and a half years the HD Radio Alliance has been beating the drum, hawking the charms of this exciting new technology. Live Text Updates! Audiophile digital sound! Fantastic new programming!

The reality has been far different. Few stations did any text at all. The digital signal is better than analog, but still highly compressed (and far from “audiophile”). And as for programming, most stations simply simulcast the same old sh*t they were spewing out of their FM channel.

Here’s the way it’s supposed to work. Identify a consumer need. Create a product that addresses that need. Make consumers aware that you have answer for their need (and it’s better than anyone else’s).

With HD Radio, the product came first, then the “need” was crafted to fit what it could do, and then the struggle began to educate the consumer that they really did have this need they weren’t aware of.

And radio’s been trying to push that rope uphill for the past seven years.

According to their press release,
“In this economic environment, being able to receive all these extra stations around the country for free is immensely appealing.”
Fair enough. If you’re strapped for cash, HD Radio’s better than satellite radio, because there are no subscription fees. But I can just stick with my beat-up old AM/FM radio that still works just fine and not buy anything at all -- and if you're talking saving money, that's even more appealing. Am I missing out on amazing programs? Perhaps. But it’s tough to miss programming you’ve never heard.

Rather than a campaign to educate the public about HD Radio, I think someone should launch a campaign to educate radio broadcasters about the increasingly apparent DOA nature of HD Radio. I’m not sure which would be more difficult, or less successful.

- Ralph