Life After Radio -- 8 New Ideas

At my daughter's graduation from ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication I got that sick feeling -- you know, the one I often get in this space when I describe the demise of the radio industry.

The school's impressive dean, Christopher Callahan put the best face on things that he possibly could but he was wise to warn the graduating students that in spite of their excellent education, they face an uncertain future.

The guest speaker, a local TV anchor was not as delicate with the young graduates' feelings and hopes.

She spoke of being fired twice -- once when she was pregnant -- and the level of despair that she felt then -- not even now. She said she felt like killing herself! If it was despair then, imagine what it is now when a capable media person can't find a job because there are none.

My daughter is looking for a career in sports -- media, public relations, news -- as long as it is sport-related. She'd be happiest working for the Atlanta Braves -- her favorite team. She is quite a knowledgeable sports person and an outstanding writer. Boy, did she pick a year to graduate.

The student speaker at the ceremony was the best -- an impressive person I've gotten to know named Jill Galus.

Jill's a hard worker -- who can't get enough internships to satisfy her. Interested in news reporting or anchoring, she worked tirelessly on the school's daily TV news program.

I share all of this with you not only out of pride from this father but because at Daria's graduation, Jill was the speaker who had the best message. I think it applies to those of us in the radio and music industries right now.

She said whatever the future, we're ready for it.

Can we say the same thing?

Youth has a way of not being deterred by reality, but this thought should be adopted by all of us looking to continue in whatever succeeds radio and the record business.

I've long promised to write this piece about life after radio, but now I'm emotionally compelled to do so.

I, like you, wish it could all be as good as it once was when radio was king and the record industry kept the hits coming.

I knew it was over when I joined the University of Southern California faculty after selling Inside Radio to Clear Channel. The students didn't like radio and didn't need the record labels. They still don't.

And without retelling what you already know, it should suffice to say that the radio industry let the next generation get away on the watch of a handful of play-CEOs intoxicated with power.

Labels became obsessed with the one thing that they could do -- sell plastic and before that vinyl products. They couldn't -- and still can't -- come up with an encore. They don't get it.

This morning, I'd like to give you the tip of the iceberg on opportunities that could be available to talented radio and record industry people -- the ones suffering at the hands of leaders who have proven to be incompetent.

Those of you who subscribe to this letter know that I really believe that radio people have precisely the skills to grow what's next -- the digital beyond.

Many radio people are being humiliated on or before they are eventually fired. Left without health care. Without a chance for employment since most of the consolidators -- all of whom are in trouble -- own most of the stations. Their kids are in college, but no one ever talks about that.

They have parents who need assistance. They have no retirement plans to speak of (this is radio, remember?) and that sorry state of affairs is sometimes offset by the nine-month severance that Clear Channel offers its fired (the ones who have worked for them for more than three years). Little consolation -- as there is no place to work after the nine months of severance is spent.

Inspired by Jill Galus' thought of whatever happens, we're ready for it, let me share with you some of the reasons I can be so frankly honest about the demise of an industry I have loved all my life and still not beaten down by it. Perhaps you will feel the same way.

Here are a few ways that these talented people can take advantage of what consolidators have repeatedly rejected -- the digital future.

For those of you who are talent or work in programming, here's something I'm betting is going to be big --- real big ...

1. Radio personalities, newspeople, off-air production and support folks and writers doing podcasts on a daily basis. I'm not talking about radio moved over to podcasts. I'm speaking of a new relationship with your audience. Anyone can do a podcast for the hell of it. I'm talking about a franchise that can be monetized through ancillary forms of sponsorship. The audience can grow through social networking. You become Clear Channel! Maybe I should reword that. You own the franchise. As it grows you make the money. Only your audience can fire you not a Dickey or a Fagreed. I've told you about a podcasting development client I have (former number one radio morning team) ready to go live in mid-June with the next iteration of radio. No music. Their mouths to your ear bud. Think Jean Sheppard. Treat yourself here.

If you're a hardcore 24/7 radio person who wants to keep cranking out continuous content ...

2. Internet streaming of non-terrestrial content. There will be a market for unique programming not a jukebox. Today's jukebox is already loaded and running. It's an iPod. Internet streams will work when they have special programming done by qualified people who have earned the right to be on. There are plenty of problems here not the least of which is the expense of succeeding with music programming. A reader wrote to me the other day to say he had to take down a stream that gets 500,000 listeners a day because he couldn't pay the music licensing fees -- another reason to fight the evil record labels. This is no time to throw cold water on what could be a hot new industry. In the meantime, stream what others have dared not to do. Use social networking to build and maintain the audience. You own it. I can build an Internet station in a week -- and make it better in a month. You can, too.

A little twist on Internet streaming that is an automatic money maker ...

3. Build Internet stations for local restaurants, businesses and retailers. You own them and license them to the clients. It's professional and designed to be heard in the store by their listeners. Live 365 will do. Again, keep in mind the licensing fees and proceed with caution until that issue is finally resolved, but pitch companies on more than music in the store. Before opening, the programming is for the employees. When the doors open, it works in real-time for customers. After hours, it's for the janitor or stock people. It's very affordable and I have a friend who does this and shows the client how to get their "investment" money back by selling sponsorships to their suppliers.

If you're a newsperson, writer, community affairs executive or interested in new ways to dispense information in a digital world ...

4. Pick a town or city and become the "news source" for it -- town meetings, crime, anything that goes on in that locale. Put it up on a website and, better yet, add an Apple app that people in that location can carry around on their phones to touch and connect with what's happening close to their homes in real-time. Monetize the app, the website and ancillary income streams that come from owning the franchise for Hoboken, New Jersey or Newport Beach, California or Ames, Iowa. Newspapers wouldn't do it -- they once did regional editions loaded with feature stories. Radio barely does any news. Own a town and get rich with your production, reporting, social networking and Internet skills.

Really adventurous? How about the new digital "newspaper" that everyone will read ...

5. It's not news websites -- that's no business model. It will be blogs -- special information on something that attracts a valued audience. But instead of monetizing it by selling ads (something I think has peaked even when the recession ends), sell a subscription. That's right, I am nuts. I believe people will pay a reasonable fee for that which they crave -- remember I said crave not like. In the past, if you are an expert on gardening, you would have done a radio show, TV or newspaper column. Now, you'll do a blog. And if it has passionate followers and you price it right, you'll make money and build revenue with your audience. Keep in mind I'm projecting this trend -- it's coming because it has to come. The Internet is a delivery system not the content.

Say you're a die hard that is waiting for WLS to be sold for $1 million and you and a few radio buddies come up with the money to buy it. Forget about it. But, there is one more thing ...

6. Work for a family -- a mom and pop. I worked for Rick Buckley in Philadelphia and interestingly enough Rick is still here and survived consolidation -- funny about that, isn't it? Local operators know radio. So, if you want to buy a small station make sure it's real small -- and do local radio. Not 24/7 music programming -- anyone can get music just about anywhere. The only operators that are even making it today are local mavens who have no or low debt and who do local radio. Look, radio will never be the growth business it once was but the one thing that could give it a breath of life -- consolidators won't do or don't know how to do -- local radio. I wouldn't invest a lot. Go LMA someone's station and show them what a pro can do.

Sensing television is about to become radio -- dead on arrival? Consider this ...

7. Video -- short video -- is the future. Apple is going to come out with a new tablet pad sometimes referred to as an iPad that will continue to revolutionize the industry. There's a business here for talented producers. Informational shows, short-form dramas, entertainment series -- it's what's next after YouTube and what's just between here and Hulu, the website owned by a few entertainment companies to monetize online viewing of their TV shows. Except this idea is to create your own franchises -- deliver it to whatever technology is available including computer screens, Apple TV, iPods and iPhones and whatever is next.

One of my favorites -- music discovery ...

8. Every iPod is a modern day jukebox or oldies station, so innovators are going to have to move beyond that. Radio doesn't -- it just plays the same short playlists over and over. But there is room for knowledgeable people who can discover new acts, new artists, new songs and bring them into the pipeline. You won't be making money on selling CDs (although you may make some money from old world technologies). Music discovery will be a business all to itself and it's fair to say the labels will sit this one out. The key is to go out and find the talent, sign them to royalty-free music agreements and then use whatever technology comes along to deliver it to the end user. It's in effect, the anti-record label.

There's more --- much more -- and I'll share it along with my frequent updates on Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous or what I call radio CEOs as they bumble their way through tough times.

They are on the road to destruction.

They have wantonly released a lot of talent and kicked them to the street.

They will never adopt even one of the eight ideas that I've listed above -- and I'm fine with that.

When I'm not writing this I'm doing that. I hope you will, too.

Once you get a taste for the potential, you'll be reinvigorated like never before.

One more thing.

I've always thanked the real Evil Empire -- the mighty Clear Channel of 2000 not Hogan's Weirdos of today -- for suing me for $100 million. I mean that. Because I sued them back -- for $125 million. And they eventually decided to buy my company and settle the suits all in one.

What was better was that they insisted on a non-compete. The options in my opinion weren't pretty but the one thing I could do was -- teach. So, I spent great years as a professor at USC thanks to Uncle Lowry.

It turns out he should have sent his own sons off to learn about the next generation with me.

If he had, Clear Channel would know what they paid me to learn -- that what radio consolidators are doing is dead and the content that radio people have the potential to do is very much alive.

My continued affection and admiration is directed to radio and records people who work hard because they love what they do in spite of the maniacs that they work for.

The future starts here -- now.

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