Archive for April, 2016

America’s Most-Watched Broadcaster Will Soon Be Tirico

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Unknown-1Even in a media environment that has drastically changed, there is still room for a few stars. One of them is about to get brighter.

Reports say that ESPN’s Mike Tirico, the voice and face of Monday Night Football, NBA and college basketball coverage, Major PGA events and seemingly so much more is headed to NBC. There, he appears in line to broadcast the Olympics, by far the most-watched sports event in America and becoming more valuable as live events become the new mass media, in addition to Sunday Night Football, the most-watched weekly TV series in the country, as well as NBC’s golf coverage and whatever else the Comcast-owned network acquires in the coming years.

If the evolution of media continues, and audiences continue to splinter with the exception of “big events,” Mike Tirico is set to become the most-watched TV personality in America. Unusually talented, Tirico is versatility skilled at play-by-play, studio hosting and interviewing. His preparation to become well-versed in all relevant subjects is legendary, as is his uncanny memory for names and ability to instantly recall information.

The first I heard of Tirico was more than 25 years ago. I was entering as a freshman at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and, meeting with peer advisors heard one advisor, a senior boast that his boss at his internship was “The Next Bob Costas.” This is a school where hundreds of us every year left home with the goal of being “The Next Bob Costas.”

Someone asked, “Who’s your boss?” The answer was the 23 year-old sports director of WTVH-TV in Syracuse, a recent graduate of the school I was entering. “I’m telling you, he’s the next Costas.” “OK,” I thought, “I’ll check this guy out on TV and see how good he really is.” Once I got my TV hooked up in the dorm, I turned on Channel 5 to see the hype for myself. Tirico lived up to it. A personality that jumped off the screen and a smooth articulation, it was no surprise when he joined ESPN just a year later and gradually but steadily worked his way from late night SportsCenter anchor to that network’s marquee talent.

Since the mid-’80s, there has only been one Bob Costas. But now, Tirico is poised to succeed not only Costas, but also Al Michaels, another of the all-time greats. It won’t be long before students show up on campus at Syracuse wanting to be “The Next Mike Tirico.”

When Doves Cry

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Prince_logo.svgAnother artist gone too soon.  There have been many in recent weeks with Prince, sadly, among the most notable and pioneering.  He was James Brown meets Jimi Hendrix – a rocker who merged funk, R&B, electronica and soul as well as anyone ever did.  A trendsetter and visionary.  An amazing songwriter and incredible singer with range that one moment expressed emotion, another sexuality.

As a radio disk jockey as his career began and progressed, I experienced first hand how traditional radio at first shunned and then openly embraced him.  When I first hit the airwaves in 1981, music from his first offerings, “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy” were too controversial for anything but Urban formatted stations to play, typically late at night and edited.  At the same time, traditional “Hit” radio was the exact opposite of color and gender blind. They rarely played African American or female artists. Then came Michael Jackson and MTV.

The timing was perfect for Prince and he took full advantage – releasing his swan song, “Purple Rain” and the beautiful “When Doves Cry” to radio and MTV.  The movie, “Purple Rain”, would become the silver screen’s first long-form music video since the Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine”.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

What would follow, in fact, was a legendary career that would offer the eclectic (“Rasberry Beret”), the socially relevant (“Sign of the Times”) and the out-and-out fun (“Kiss”).  A master marketer, he was among the first to release music free and or without promotion online – approaches later emulated to great success by Radiohead, Beyonce and Drake.

Always pushing boundaries.  Always setting trends.  A chameleon who was first a name and then a symbol and then a name again.  At times we might have wanted to look away, but we could never take our eyes or ears off him.

A Rare Endorsement Of Broadcasting

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

imagesI had the privilege of starting my communications career at age 11.

That’s because I had the exceptionally good fortune to grow up in a community that funded a radio station, put it inside of a school, staffed it primarily with students and made it accessible. By the time I got to college, I had seven years of experience on the air but also invaluable leadership and teamwork lessons learned behind the scenes. This adventure began more than 30 years ago and it’s reassuring to know it will continue long into the future.

This weekend, I had the honor to speak at the dedication of spectacular new studios for WBFH-FM in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The people who make decisions about the area where I grew up, which is not too far away from where I live now, have decided to invest in the future of community broadcasting. When the school district decided to merge two high schools into one, leaders determined that WBFH should be the physical centerpiece of the new school, to ensure its relevance, vibrancy and accessibility well into the future.

I remarked during the dedication ceremony how energizing it is to see a long-term commitment made to local media. In today’s environment where, for better or for worse, large public corporations own media outlets, decisions are made about meeting financial targets quarter-to-quarter. Decisions about “the future” often mean next year. Cuts and “more with less” rule the day in ways that audiences are having a hard time understanding.

WBFH will turn 40 years old in October. During the dedication ceremony, community leaders spoke of “the next 40 years” for the station. That kind of talk is unheard of as commercial media faces an uncertain future. I remarked, tongue slightly in cheek, that “Leaders here seem to care more about the future of broadcasting than the corporations that are in the business of broadcasting.” That is not to suggest public companies should abandon commitments to shareholders to make capital investments. But it sure is refreshing to see broadcasting, which is now happening over an app and not just via a tower, embraced by a community that understands its value to education as well as quality of life.

Media Pros Opine on Today, Tomorrow

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

imagesHow is media evolving and adapting today to market forces and realities? What does the future hold?  These are questions that many of us ask everyday. Today, PRSA Detroit met the media and posed those very questions at a morning program with some enlightening results. The event featured a roundtable discussion with Alan Stamm/Deadline Detroit, Marge Sorge/Detroit News Hub, Jon Zemke/Metro Mode-Model D and Dustin Blitchok/Metro Times.  Yours truly had the good fortune to moderate in my role as 2016 Chapter president.  No journalist shied away from any topic or question; on the contrary all were candid and open.

How is media evolving and adapting today? For one thing it is doing more with less. Less people, less money and less time.  What none of these seasoned veterans will ever compromise is journalistic integrity and quality.  Yet, that is continually challenged, as Marge Sorge noted, by buyouts and early retirements whereby up and comers miss out on the mentoring of those who have been there done that.  After all, any skilled trade requires apprenticeships.

Moreover, less available time portends a need to receive materials from communications and PR professionals that are tailored, ready-made and more substantial (without overwhelming).  For example, a press release sent to one of these online outlets on a charity event should also include a couple of interesting photos as well as an event logo – even a short video snippet if apropos.

As for the future, who knows exactly.  The panel pointed to traditional print media outlets across the country that are already going entirely online save perhaps a Sunday print edition.  Also expected are more foundation-supported and organizational (i.e. union) news sources with, of course, their respective individual biases.

We are all staying tuned, of course, for what may come next.  Some can be anticipated while others cannot.  One thing, though, is certain. In the world of media, the more things change, the even less they stay the same.