Happy New Year. I hope that 2018 brings some good things for the three or four of you. It has started out cold. I wonder if that’s a sign of things to come, like raining on a wedding day.
There is bright sunshine. It’s clear and there’s snow on the ground. It’s a beautiful scene until you walk out your door and hear the crunch of packed snow under your feet. There’s the sudden realization that a wind that started in the Yukon, traversed Canada and then gained steam down Lake Michigan just slapped you in the face. Your first reaction is to hunch your shoulders. You accept the cold, notice its brilliance and celebrate its beauty. But you don’t have to like it.
It’s a new year and I have been off of from doing radio since December 22nd. It wasn’t by design. I didn’t just walk out of the station on a Friday and say – “Hey, I’ll see you in ten days.” I planned on working on things other than doing my morning show. There are four work days between the holidays and I intended to make them just that.
But there’s something else going on here. And when I walked out of the station 10 days ago, I didn’t know what it was. Sure, I’m a little burned out. Accept that. But there’s something else going on. Let’s take stock.
We have been for 94 years a local AM radio station. Long before we bought WJOB in 2004, it was a brand and a purpose. We didn’t put WJOB on the map. We plugged into the brand and tradition that already existed. Hopefully, we’re all better off for it, including the three or four of you who read this blog. It’s a blog about local radio. You must care about local radio if you read this.
In the past couple of years, we have allowed the market to dictate to us what we as a local media company should be doing. In 2017, the biggest change was Facebook Live. Whatever radio we were doing, we could, due to the huge technological advancement, do in video too. And we could do it instantly.
In 2017, we garnered more than 2.5 million video views on our WJOB Facebook feed. If you add in Twitter and our personal pages, we’re approaching 3 million views for the year. That wasn’t there before.
We also added an FM station in 2016 that didn’t start to come into its own until 2017. We added podcasts and Facebook Live reality segments. We started doing high school and college games in video only sometimes. We built our own app – Hey JED. In 2017, we were all over the place with new technologies. This blog is even a reflection of new technology. Not that blogs were new in 2017. It’s more like I learned how to write regularly in a blog to you in 2017. Before 2017, I wrote irregularly. I didn’t know as my purpose. Now I do. Local radio as we know it is going away. Let’s chronicle the change.
In a word, we are at the forefront of technology – while at the same time rooted in tradition. We started broadcasting AM radio in 1923 or 24. We started Facebook Live in 2016. The question is – where do we go from here? Isn’t that a question that you’re supposed to ask on New Year’s Day?
It’s the answer that’s difficult. I walked out of the stations ten days ago because I sensed that it was the right thing to do. I have faithfully written this blog to the three or four of you every day during the break. We’re not only recording my world of local radio… we’re doing something else. And I’m getting a clearer picture of what that is.
We’re looking for an answer to that very question – where do we go from here?
The truth is that for the past 13 years since we bought WJOB, I have been running things like we’re just feeling things out. We have trying to gain stable footing and we have been trying to look for a solid plan. On the way, we try a lot of different things. We have to because radio is dying. We want to because there’s a purpose to what we do and an excitement out there from applying new technology.
But where from here?
I’m the leader of this thing and it’s best that I have a relative understanding of the answer to this question. It’s best for the organization to move forward. It’s best for our clients and for our listeners. It may be best for radio in general. We have been fortunate. We have rebuilt WJOB in an industry that is not growing. We have surged into new technologies without going bust along the way. We have fulfilled our commitment to the Calumet Region to be WJOB and something a little bit extra… but where from here?
It would take more than 10 days to develop a complete answer to this. It’s confusing. I have allowed us to develop in a haphazard way. It’s the Berkeley way – whatever happens happens, dude. This is acceptable when you’re trying to develop new ways of communicating and you’re trying to do it in an affordable fashion. But the Hey Dude way of running a business does not work when you’re trying to apply your advancements to do something great. You need some focus and a plan.
It’s a realization of this that brought me back to MBA school. I realize that to really re-establish radio with all of its offshoots as the preferred method of communication around here, I have to learn more about how to do business. I certainly don’t want to turn into a briefcase-toting robot. But I do want to have a better understanding of the fundamentals of business so that I can take WJOB and new media to new heights. The business knowledge is a means to an end. I like learning the stuff, but I’m mainly learning it to make WJOB better. At least for now.
In 2018, I sense that we will bring some disparate things into a more cohesive unit.
There’s a lot going on here. We’re disorganized, unfocussed. I realize this. I wanted this. It’s a method that is an extension of how I traded at the Board of Trade. I would walk into the pit in the morning and I would put trades on to see what would happen, to see what would work. The best way to understand which way the market is going is to have a trade on. As a matter of trading truism, it’s the only way to understand the market.
To some extent, I have done the same thing in media. I have thrown a bunch of trades against the wall to see which ones stick. A couple have stuck. Now what do we do?
In the pits, if a trade was going your way, you learned to get out of the way and let it keep going. How does that apply to media? How do I get out of the way and let Facebook Live and other streaming video go where it wants to go.... making us a bunch of money along the way?
I understand the parallel of experimenting with trades and experimenting with new media… but I don’t understand when to do once the new media shows promise. How do you make money off of it?
Nobody, and I mean nobody, has the answers to this. Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows what a local media company should look like. What should we cover? Where should we distribute? What is the future?
These are questions that leaders of media companies all over America grapple with every day. These media companies can come into potential client offices, slap down a slick marketing portfolio and tell the prospect that they have the answers. But it’s just not true. It’s not genuine. Nobody has the answers.
Because the media landscape changes too quickly. A year and a half ago, there was no Facebook Live video. Now look where we’re at. A year and a half ago, there wasn’t a president who tweeted on social media every morning when he sits down to take a crap. Now there is. A year and a half ago, we didn’t have an FM station. A year and a half ago, the home studio rule and cross ownership were still in effect for radio. Now they’re not.
Thank you, at this point, for letting me ramble. I really do sense that we’re getting close to capitalizing on our investments for the betterment of the Calumet Region. I don’t know exactly what we should do, but I’m getting the sneaking feeling that there is an answer out there. It’s up to me to find the focus. Will you follow me, then, in my ramblings to nowhere?
One of the things that has bugged me the most for the past couple of years is this – what do I tell potential clients? How do I sell what we’re doing?
You know, if you read this blog enough, and I know and all of the people who work around WJOB know and so do our many clients – WJOB is a great advertising value right now. Part of the reason this is so is that many of our clients came on paying AM radio prices, and now they get, for the same price:
We are, right now, at an almost 100% retention rate. And some of our clients are coming to us asking – hey, how can I put more money with you?
What does this tell you? To me, it says a couple of things.
This is where the challenge comes in. It’s a challenge that I face and that innovators in media across America face. We’re making advancements, but we don’t know how to sell the advancements. We know – and our existing advertisers know – that WJOB is making connections with people in record fashion. This makes for better results for advertisers.
I have actually asked a couple of long time advertisers – “hey, if WJOB is working for you, why aren’t you telling your friends to advertise?”
On guy told me – “Why would I tell anyone, especially if they're my competitor? And if they're not and they come buy advertising with you, eventually you'll raise your prices. I've got a secret that I'm not telling anyone. It's not in my best interest."
I get it. We’re getting results, but we’re not telling our story. That’s the challenge for 2018. Let’s tell our story.
But where do we start?
One of the things that I’ve held to all of these years of doing radio is that we must be genuine. I must be genuine on the air. The other hosts must be genuine. We must be real. We must be a genuine part of the Calumet Region.
“We paint the world as it is, not as we wish it were.”
This thrust to be genuine is part of everything that we do. We try to be genuine people. We try to bring genuine radio. We try to develop new media that are genuine in their own way.
So how does that relate to selling of advertising? This is where I get stuck. And, after ten days and 40,000 words, I’m starting to have a sense of how we can get unstuck. It just came to me.
Why don’t we just be genuine to potential advertisers?
That would mean we would have to get in front of them to tell our story. But what story?
I’ve got an idea on this, but I don’t want to write to the three or four of you any more right now. It’s 9am on New Years morning and I want to eat something. There’s a direction brewing in my soul. I’m gonna let it percolate for a while and then I’ll tell you what I’m thinking. For now, enjoy your New Years Day. You only get so many.