Archive for the ‘radio’ Category

Crain’s Detroit Business Publishes Tanner Friedman Guest Column

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Zz52NGJMCrain’s Detroit Business has published a guest column, authored by Tanner Friedman Co-Founder Matt Friedman. The column focuses on the retirement, after 41 years, of WBFH-FM radio station manager Pete Bowers, who gave Friedman’s communications career a start when he was a sixth-grader interested in broadcasting.

Here is a link to the column, which explains how Bowers’ influence will last long after his retirement and should sere as an example for business people everywhere.

For DJ, Life After Radio Means Still Putting Fans, Music First

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The “suits” who lay off radio hosts are the same as the bean counters who eliminate budgets for PR firms. They just care about “hitting the numbers,” without consideration of the damage of destroying long-term relationships. But sometimes, the relationships can prevail.

Two months ago, corporate ownership of Windsor, Ontario station CIMX-FM, known as 89X, cut its U.S. based staff serving the Detroit market. Among the budget casualties was Cristina, a part-time DJ. She hosted a Sunday morning classic alternative show called “Time Warp,” which appealed to GenXers in particular who enjoy the sounds of the ’80s and ’90s. Cristina didn’t just play music, she guided her audience through the music, with palpable enthusiasm, compelling personality and extensive knowledge.

Classic alternative is one of the music genres that I enjoy, at least in part. For almost 20 years, “Time Warp” was appointment listening. Even though some of the tunes weren’t for me, I always learned something interesting from Cristina and even discovered some music I wish I hadn’t missed when it was new. Listening to someone with a true enthusiasm for what they do, not phony hype, is a lost experience in media. But Cristina brought that every week, establishing her brand as the authority on retro alternative music.

I was disappointed to hear that she was among the cuts at 89X, a station I felt as if I had “outgrown” otherwise. But a few weeks later, I discovered on Twitter that “Time Warp” was still alive. Cristina was now streaming a version of the show on her own, on Sunday mornings, online. How cool is that?

I reached out to her for this blog to hear how and why that happened. Here is, in part, what she told me:

“I just listened to this documentary on Andy Patridge from XTC…He made this comment that music just infected him…that he got infected with music…That’s kind of what happened to me… Music isn’t just a hobby, it’s part of my being and part of my life. So after when everything went down at the end of March, it meant my radio career is probably over. But that doesn’t mean your love for music and love for what you live for is over… I also felt that it was terrible for the listeners as well, people who really enjoyed the old school classic alternative music…There’s this void so why not fill it?”

Cristina paints the picture of what it’s like for so many in radio now by telling me, “We weren’t sure what exactly was going to go down but we knew something would change because there were a lot of weird things going on. So, in the back of your mind, every time you’re doing a show, you’re thinking…’Well I hope this isn’t the last one.’” Amid those thoughts, she considered her backup plan. She had some equipment and software at home. She thought, for her listeners, she would figure out a way to do the show online.

She doesn’t see this as a business opportunity. “It’s a service to the classic alternative community… It’s really an opportunity for me to offer something that I’m really passionate about and frickin’ love. The fact that there are people willing and they want to listen to it and they love it? That’s sweet!”

There are some legal restrictions because of music licensing, but Cristina does a very enjoyable version. In at least one way, it’s better than the original. You don’t have to suffer through Canadian public service announcements to get to the music, or to her insights.

She has also proven to be nimble, doing an hour plus special streaming show on the day singer Chris Cornell died in Detroit, playing his music from Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and even his friends’ onetime band, Mother Love Bone. “That’s what radio can offer to people is to help them wrap their brain around something that’s unthinkable,” she said. “It helped me grieve, maybe it helped someone else?”

It did, Cristina.

“The outpouring of support (from listeners) has really blown me away… It really helped me get through a crappy period in my life…losing something that meant so much…Doing the show is kind of my gift to them.”

To get the streaming link on Sunday mornings, follow Cristina on Twitter at @cristinarocks or check out this link

A TV Guy Helps Radio Break Its Losing Streak

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

UnknownSometimes, being a fan of radio feels like rooting for a perennially losing sports team, decades removed from its glory years. The wins haven’t come often and when they do, you have to savor them. Now is one of those times.

This example of a victory for commercial, terrestrial radio is WJR-AM in Detroit, billed as “The Great Voice of The Great Lakes.” The station’s 50,000 watt signal can be heard in 38 states and much of Canada. In its heyday, it was a powerhouse of local flavor, national-caliber hosts and billings, lots and lots of bills. But under corporate ownership, the past decade has seen the station shrink, like just about every other across the country. While the station boasts strong talk personalities Paul W. Smith, Frank Beckmann and Mitch Albom, much of the airtime is taken up by syndicated national programming or paid shows.

WJR’s current owner, Cumulus, though, seems to be emerging from bankruptcy with the beginnings of a plan to stay out of it. Unlike others that have cut and then cut and then cut some more, giving new listeners hardly a reason to tune in, WJR is showing signs of investment. It bid on and won the rights to Detroit Lions broadcasts for this season. And now, they are dumping a nationally syndicated political show, Michael Savage, and hiring a trusted, proven local voice, really a household name, to host a daily, local news talk show. (Details in this Crain’s Detroit Business story, featuring Tanner Friedman analysis).

Guy Gordon is a professional news broadcaster. Prepared, polished, inquisitive and fair, Gordon has spent more than 30 years on Detroit TV. I competed against him when he was at WXYZ-TV (his 6pm newscast and the one I produced at WDIV-TV were neck and neck in the ratings, but we eeked it out more nights than not) and I have worked on stories with him at both WXYZ-TV and since his move to WDIV-TV over the past 18+ years. He asks great questions and tells great stories, with high respect for the audience. For the past two years, he has filled in as a host on WJR and has made it sound easy.

For now, Guy will be on 3pm to 5pm but I hear that could expand once syndicated programming contracts expire. Cumulus wants WJR to be more local and it’s a safe bet that advertisers and listeners will respond well to this void being filled. When was the last time we could say a station like this had something new to sell that customers actually want, not settle for? There just aren’t many places for news that emerges during the day to be explored on the air for commuters and even time-shifted podcast listeners. Guy’s reputation and Rolodex will mean his show will be a go-to place for newsmakers to talk beyond the headlines by answering his questions.

This is something for other radio stations and their owners to consider. What are you doing, other than cutting salaries, to sustain, or maybe even grow, your business? What investments in product could lead to more audience and more ad dollars?

Newspapers, you’re due for a win too. There’s something to think about here.

When News Organizations Make Cuts, Others Have To Speak For Them

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

1462736-hand-with-scissors-cutting-out-an-article-from-newspaperOne of the first things I learned in the PR business was “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

Companies that have nothing to say in times of bad news will have the comment vacuum filled quickly. It was true then and even more obvious now as social media can empower just about anyone to be a de facto company spokesperson.

We’re finding, in this time of multiple crises for media organizations, that their lack of PR acumen is biting them once again. As we have written about in recent weeks, around the country, the end of the year is meaning more cuts in newsrooms that can ill afford them. But plunging revenues, changing audience habits and other factors are leading to job eliminations across the industry. In one case, privately-owned business news outlet Crain’s Detroit Business, the outlet outlined its changes for its customers in this story placed on its website. But in most cases, especially corporate-owned entities, the news organizations are, ironically, leaving the storytelling to others.

As we have written, both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are in the process of making cuts. At a client meeting the other day, I heard that situation spoken of as “what the Free Press and News announced.” Actually, they didn’t announce anything. Other outlets got their hands on internal memos. The news organizations themselves have said nothing to customers. Word about who is accepting buyouts is coming out in drips on journalists’ personal social media pages.

Contrast this with when news organizations are on the other side. When companies they cover make changes, journalists demand detailed information on behalf of the communities they cover. I remember one time when a client closed a facility, and didn’t yet know how many exactly jobs would be affected because of a combination of retirements, layoffs and open jobs not being filled, several reports accused the company of “hiding information.”

This is even happening at the national level. Word leaked Friday night via the New York Post that CBS Radio News would push several well-known anchors into retirement. The company did not comment. The next morning though, one of the company’s journalists, Steven Portnoy, did. The company lucked out that a thoughtful, respectful employee was the one to step forward and fill the void. Here is an excerpt:

“You may have read the news that we’ve been wishing some of our very best friends and colleagues at CBS well as they enter retirement with a bit of corporate encouragement. A word on that —

The people we’ve hailed are, frankly, irreplaceable. They represent a big chunk of the institutional memory of our newsroom and their departures leave us feeling quite sad.

It’s important for radio fans to understand why this is happening. It is NOT because fewer people are listening. In fact, just the opposite is true! Nielsen and Edison Research tell us that radio now reaches more people than any other medium, including the social one you’re reading right now. Many of our stations are at the very top of the ratings in their markets. Tens of millions of Americans of all ages learn about our world from network radio news — don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, we’ve got the data that proves it’s just not true.

The trouble is, marketers — the companies that buy advertising, in the hopes that you’ll buy the things they sell — are always looking for the newest, most cost-efficient way to reach people in a crowded media universe. They’re spending less money on advertising generally and are trying to figure out whether that will work for them. The jury is still out, but network radio in particular has taken a pretty tough hit from the shifting dollars. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the idea that fewer people are listening isn’t one of them.

It’s with this backdrop that CBS has, however, been forced to make tough, careful decisions about our staffing. My understanding is that no more cuts are planned.

What’s important for you, a fan of radio news, to know is this — each hour, 24 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days each year, the that proudly introduces our newscast will continue to signal the very best in broadcast journalism.

The people of CBS News are as committed as ever to living up to a legacy that began with Robert Trout and Ed Murrow, evolved with Douglas Edwards, Dallas Townsend and Christopher Glenn, and continues today with Frank Settipani, Steve Kathan, Dave Barrett, Pam Coulter and countless others who have made it their life’s work to bring the most up-to-date news to you, a member of one of the largest audiences any media entity in America can claim…

…Thanks for keeping our colleagues and what we do in your thoughts, and thanks for listening.”

If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you. Others won’t get as lucky as CBS and will continue to suffer via public opinion.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

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Election Talk Doesn’t Have To Be Boring

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

boring-content1This past week, there was actually a radio show that analyzed the third Presidential Debate without screaming, name-calling or, maybe best yet, no recitation of campaign talking points from predictable voices.

The show was Detroit Today on public WDET-FM and you can listen via this link to hear what it sounded like. It was a privilege to be a part of an independent on-air panel and the audience seemed to appreciate hearing far more than what it has come to expect from guests who represent the major parties, typically armed with the party lines and purely political perspectives.

Therein lies the problem as a consumer of media during this election. So much of it has been so predictable. From this vantage point, that has long been a characteristic of political talk, where predictable can turn, in an instant, to boring.

“Hmmmm… what’s Rush Limbaugh going to say today? Oh that’s right, Republicans are good. Democrats are bad. Got it.” “What’s Rachel Maddow talking about tonight? Oh ya, Liberals are correct, Conservatives are wrong. OK.” While there’s a proven business model behind the always-take-one-side content approach, for those of us looking some cognitive challenge this time of the year, it can be hard to find.

That extends across all platforms. By now, each of us on social media has figured out where our contacts stand. Their posts have become flat boring. But nothing seems more predictable and boring than some of CNN’s punditry. In the name of “balance,” they are paying political types who have essentially become actors to recite campaign talking points on their set. It’s an quick-grab of the remote every time Jeffrey Lord, for example, is called upon to deliver his rehearsed and well-compensated lines.

I’m hearing what you are from those who know that they are “sick” of the election and “can’t wait for it to be over.” But media consumption levels are telling a different story. Ratings for news are up, clicks online are up and the election is The Story. So here are a few suggestions of places where you can get your election fix, give your brain a workout, and avoid boring content and paid acting:

-Sirius-XM POTUS Channel (124) – This is a political talk channel without a political agenda. If we didn’t have it, we’d want someone to invent it. I have been avidly listening since just before the Conventions this summer, after being an occasional button pusher the past few years. Particularly recommended are Tim Farley’s “Morning Briefing” in the early morning and Michael Smerconish’s show in the late morning (his trademark theme song is the ’70s Stealers Wheel one hit wonder “Stuck In The Middle”).

-The Axe Files – The podcast from former Democratic strategist David Axelrod is civil, insightful, multi-partisan interview and conversation. It’s simply worth your time.

-NPR – It’s often lumped into the “liberal media” category, probably more because of its audience than anything else. But take it from someone with a discriminating ear who spends a lot of time in the car, thorough political conversation has been paramount this year. Even the daily campaign news is put into context through on-site reporting. Locally in Michigan, the aforementioned “Detroit Today” and Michigan Radio’s “Stateside” talk shows are fair and, most importantly, interesting. NPR credits the election for a ratings bump.

If you’re interested in echo chambers that just tell you over and over again what you want to hear, I can’t help you. But there are a few options for those seeking something different for the coming weeks.

How Will Radio Survive The Cars of The Future?

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

14485135_10155219735769908_8228594928117918541_nJust when we thought there might be a small stretch of relative stability in the media business, a new wave of change is already in the fast lane.

This past week, I had the privilege of working in media relations at the World Mobility Leadership Forum, a two-day conference that convened experts from around the world near Detroit to talk about the short-to-medium term future of personal transportation. The program featured the Chairman of Ford Motor Company, the CEOs of General Motors and Volvo and executives from Tesla and Lyft, along with government officials from the U.S., Finland and other countries.

The consensus among the participants was that autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are coming, as quickly as within the next 5 years. The technology is beyond most Americans’ wildest expectations. The other trend exploding and showing no signs of reversing is ride sharing. The experts predict that it will continue to grow fast – far beyond Millennials taking Uber to the bars in big cities.

All of this threatens the medium of terrestrial radio. While radio has withstood threat after threat, ever since the proliferation of television after World War II, radio has survived because of its primacy inside the American automobile. But what will happen when cars drive themselves and the driver is free to consume entertainment or information without hands on the wheel and eyes on the road? Or when a ride-sharing driver is increasingly in control of the dashboard while the passenger does work, goes online or even sleeps during the car trip?

The challenge for radio now is to make itself invaluable, especially for information formats that truly could be distinguished from music streaming services. Satellite radio has increased its level of portability, with a place on the phone/earbud combo beyond the car. But local terrestrial radio must create value to go with its audience into the next chapter of transportation. How will that happen? The largest owner of radio stations, IHeartMedia, is carrying more than $20 billion in debt. The largest owner of all-news stations, CBS, is spinning off its radio division into a new company. Could either afford to put new resources into the product to make it indispensable?

Throughout so much change, radio has proven to be powerful, personal and resilient. Now, it’s going to take what the auto and technology companies are making priorities to secure their futures – ingenuity and investment

A Return to Radio Roots

Friday, August 19th, 2016

newyorktimes_rootsrockradio_wesduvallWith apologies to author Thomas Wolfe, sometimes you can go home again. At least I was afforded the unique opportunity to do so this past week – returning to my radio roots for an on-air thrill ride that was equal parts fun and hard work.

I have written previously and been quoted in Crain’s on Superstation 910 AM, owner Kevin Adell’s still young and well-timed venture aimed at providing a prominent media voice and forum for the African American/urban community.  As such, Tanner Friedman often seeks to book appropriate clients on station shows, including with midday man Cliff Russell and afternoon host Karen Dumas.  Interviews conducted on the station are typically in-depth, long form and enlightening; again refreshing and needed.  And then came the request.

As the station prepared to broadcast live earlier this week from Oakland Hills and the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship, the opportunity suddenly presented itself for me to co-host Dumas’s “The Pulse” Show on Tuesday. Now, some may know and others not that radio was my a first love and initial career – starting in college as a music radio air personality and newsman and continuing for 10-years after graduation. Following on-air stints on several stations in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois, I moved on to suburban Chicago and then to Detroit.  In town, I was most known for reporting traffic and weather, including on WWJ, WXYT, WLLZ and others. That ended in 1994 as I entered the world of PR, and, while I still do voicework for radio commercials and videos, I have not worked in the industry in over 20 years. That is, until this week.

For those who have never before hosted a 3-hour radio talk show (like me) it is very hard work.  You need to be knowledgeable, upbeat, intuitive, engaging, adaptable and, perhaps most importantly, possess the ‘gift of gab’.  Really listen to the masters – Karen and Cliff among them – like Paul W. Smith and Frank Beckman and the crew at WWJ , and you’ll truly appreciate how good, smart and prepared they are. Thankfully, with a bit of handholding from Karen, the three hours went by fairly fast.  Yet, like running a marathon (something else I’ve never done), the long haul can leave you content with your accomplishments yet drained by the effort put forth. All applicable here.

Indeed it was a thrill but for now I will stick with my day job, free from massive amounts of show prep, headphone hair and the need, quite often, to extend an interview to fill time and accommodate a show clock.  At the same time, I remain eager to get back into the hot seat in the not too distant future to talk to the masses while quenching my own thirst for living on the air – at least every so often.

Illustration: With kind approval of artist Wes Duvall.  For more of his work, visit: http://www.wesduvall.com

The “Little” Station That Could – And Is

Monday, July 18th, 2016

imgresIt might not yet be the ‘little station that could’ but it sure is the radio station that’s trying.  And, however you choose to look at things, Kevin Adell’s self-anointed “Superstation 910 AM” is showing up in the Detroit radio ratings after a relatively short time on-the-air.  Bill Shea goes into great detail in the latest issue of Crain’s Detroit Business.

Adell has populated his station with top-notch talent including the likes of Steve Hood, Cliff Russell, Karen Dumas and others.  At the same time, the oft-controversial owner has also brought in what some might refer to as a “cast of characters” including disgraced former Michigan lawmakers Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser for separate shows.  Talk radio should be insightful but also entertaining and such additions bring both a curiosity factor and ‘wow’ level that can motivate listeners to tune in.

What is also impressive about the upstart is the level of promotion that is being utilized.  Billboards, live appearances (including the recent Detroit Chamber Mackinac Conference), snazzy station vehicles (including a metallic-painted broadcast-ready mini-trailer) ensure high-profile awareness. This harkens back to radio’s heyday of the 60s and 70s when stations and their personalities were “everywhere” and promoted heavily.

Most importantly, they say timing is everything and certainly “The voice of the urban community”, as the station positions itself, has come along at the right time.  No matter your politics and no matter your position on recent and on-going tragic police/African American events across this country, a dialogue is necessary – vital.  Right now, 910 AM is doing this as well as anyone. Providing a forum, a platform, to talk, debate and, one would hope, move toward understanding and resolution.

It is what media is supposed to do – act in the public interest.  And while it is early, the Superstation is an interesting one to watch and listen to.

WMGC: Wherefore Art Thou Going Next?

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

imagesIs this where we cue the DJ to play Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust?” Sadly, the death of another radio station format in Detroit is no laughing matter – not when jobs and livelihoods are lost.  Yet, after just three years, that is exactly what has happened again in this town as Greater Media announced last night that its Sports/Talk station, 105.1 WMGC, is switching formats. Most staffers, it has been reported, will not be retained.

How and why did this occur? A look back (and of course, hindsight is always 20/20) illuminates what some might deem missteps. When WMGC flipped from Adult Contemporary “Magic” (with Jim Harper) it brought Drew Lane, the legendary morning man from sister station WRIF-101.1 FM, over to apparently anchor the new competitor to CBS juggernaut WXYT (97.1 FM The Ticket).  However, Lane was inserted not into his customary AM drive slot but rather into PM drive.  A lot of that could have been due to the fact that Lane had publicly shared his disdain for the life-style-challenging early morning shift.  His audience, however, did not follow him in the droves that had been anticipated or at least hoped for.

Other air personalities were similarly mismatched and moved around. As a result, top talent such as Matt Dery and Tom Mazawey were not allowed to flourish nor build particular daypart followings. The station did set itself apart from its crosstown rival with a plethora of regular live, on-air interviews.  In many ways, though, this was countermanded by too much national (ESPN) content, including for a time, much of its primetime weekday morning programming.

In the end though, WMGC could simply not compete with other Detroit radio heavyweights long known for their sports team pedigrees and acumen – including CBS and Cumulus’ WJR. The Pistons were on board, sure, yet decades removed from the “Bad Boys” days of fanatical citywide excitement; having not possessed the panache of the Tigers or Red Wings (or event Lions) for far too long.  They certainly were not enough to carry a station on its back.

So, what’s next for WMGC? From a formatics standpoint, the one glaring hole in this town would appear to be the Adult Contemporary format.  And while WOMC and Greater Media sister WCSX often dip a toe into the waters of Elton John and other traditional A/C staples, only iHeart’s WNIC is considered a true A/C.  Listen for a time to 100.3 though and ‘NIC often sounds like the more-current leaning WDVD 96.3 FM, if not a Hot Hit station.  Perhaps it is time for a more sedate, adult-focused format that more intuitively merges new songs with old.  WMXD 92.3 FM has done this very successfully, albeit with a more urban/R&B flavoring. For now, ‘MGC is simulcasting content from the WCSX HD-2 classic oldies format channel.

Ironically, WMGC was A/C before Sports/Talk yet with a more upbeat, current/recurrent bent.  It might be time for a return, although with the twist I am suggesting. To get anyone to go up the dial to 105.1 FM, though, especially in these days of Pandora, Satellite and MP3s, it is going to take an investment in truly local and name-recognizable talent.  How about luring Jim Harper out of retirement and re-teaming him with Chris Edmonds? Putting Lynne Woodison back on the Detroit airwaves? Hiring Ann Delisi to program and do what she wants on both sides of the mic? Kevin O’Neil and Tom Force should be back on the regular airwaves again too. The key to success will be investment – in forethought, strategy, true name-brand talent and an appreciation for what really makes radio great. I’ll keep my fingers crossed – but am not holding my breath.