Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Restoring Trust in the News Media

Reporting the news objectively is nearly impossible. Journalists who claim to be objective are living in a dream world. There is no way Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Charles Gibson are objective. No way.

Reporters and journalists claiming to be objective are a big reason people don't trust the news media these days. One recent national poll reported that only 55.9% of Americans surveyed expect the news media to tell them the truth. That's sad.

Here's an idea for improving trust in the news media from a guy lots of people trusted:
"I think any one worth his salt is for or against certain things. It's
going to come through if only in the selection of what goes on the air and what
goes into the wastebasket. So it seems more honest for me to call it 'Paul
Harvey News and Comment'. That way listeners know they're getting their
news from my perspective." -- Paul Harvey
I like it. Don't pretend to be objective. Be honest. Make your perspective clear. Reveal your biases and prejudices. It worked pretty well for Paul Harvey.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Glenn Beck is getting plenty of attention these days. It's largely because Glenn is on a mission. It resonates deep inside him. He views the mission as a duty. Glenn's mission fuels his passion, energy, excitement, creativity and commitment. It also drives his presentation. And, oh by the way, Glenn's mission also resonates with lots of other people, too.

Glenn begins nearly every episode of his program on Fox News Channel with a description of his mission. Here's an example from October 5:

"If you believe this country is great, but corruption is bringing us down,
it's time to stand. Come on and follow me.... I'm not a journalist.
I'm doing a job as a private citizen right now. It is the future of our
children and our grandchildren. So, it's a fight I ain't givin’ up.
If you're with me and you want to expose the corruption in Washington, you're
just a mom or grandparent, become a watchdog. I'm just a dad doing this
for my kids. Would you like to help?"
Glenn is not alone. Mission is one of the most important personal traits inherent in the best radio personalities. Mission is a sense of purpose beyond themselves, beyond fame and fortune. It can be as simple as "making people laugh every day" or as profound as "helping parents raise strong children". It's difficult to spend time every day with someone who is concerned only with themselves. The sense of mission helps make the best radio personalities real and durable over the long-term.

Oprah is another example of a personality on a mission who's done pretty well. Her mission is simple, but far-reaching. Oprah is dedicated to helping her viewers and listeners "live your best life". Everything Oprah does is driven by this mission. Watch her television show, read her magazine, or check out her website. "Live your best life" is everywhere.

I recently canceled my subscription to O Magazine (out of concern about over developing my feminine side). Yesterday, I received a letter from Oprah trying to convince me to renew. Here's what she wrote:

"O is a magazine designed to help you live your best life. Live your
truth. And live up to your limitless potential. O will get you to
think about your life: what is true for you; what you want, rather than just
what is wanted of you.

There's nothing we share in O that I haven't
gone through or continue to move through myself. I'm a woman in progress,
creating and striving for new dreams, new goals, new ideas. We each have
an exciting journey -- and O is nourishment for the trip. My hope is that
we can grow on our journey together -- and have fun along the way."

What's your mission? It begins with what really matters to you?

Glenn Beck fears that politicians and other people in power are corrupting the fundamental principles and values on which our country was founded. He's determined to help prevent this from happening.

Oprah is committed to discovering and living up to her full potential constantly creating and striving for new dreams, new goals, and new ideas. She's determined to live her best life and help others do the same.

Mission comes from inside you. It comes from what you do to make your life more interesting, meaningful, and fun. It comes from sharing the stuff that makes you laugh, marvel, or understand. It comes from a desire to give your listeners something each day that somehow makes their lives better.

Mission builds strong connections with listeners and is a driving force in the success of any radio personality. What is your mission? How do you make your listeners' lives noticeably better each day?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Timeless Formula for Success in Radio

Pat O'Day created one of the greatest personality radio stations ever. KJR dominated the ratings as well as the hearts and minds of listeners in Seattle for 15 straight years in the 60s and 70s.

Pat returned to KJR this week to celebrate his 50th year on the radio in Seattle. He talked about the role of a successful radio station in the lives of its listeners. Here's what he said. "Radio is companionship or really it's nothing. It's no better than an iPod if it doesn't have companionship."

Here's how Pat defined companionship for his disc jockeys at KJR. "We made sure that we were talking and having fun and giving our listeners joy every minute of the day. You had to picture somebody out there. You had to say, I gotta make their day more enjoyable."

Simple and timeless. Give listeners companionship and nonstop joy and they'll turn their radios on every day to listen to you and your station.

PS Pat didn't tell the talented and colorful characters he hired how to give their listeners joy. He just set the expectation and told them to go do it, all day, every day. That's probably why no two shows sounded alike on KJR.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Problem with Ryan Seacrest

"On-Air with Ryan Seacrest" is a microcosm of what's wrong with radio right now. The problem has nothing to do with the show being created in Hollywood and syndicated to local radio stations across the country. The trouble is the show's content. It's ordinary, average, and forgettable. Mindless, soulless, lowest common denominator stuff the media, including most cookie cutter morning radio shows, are saturated with -- vacuous interviews with celebrities hyping their latest projects, a steady stream of superficial celebrity news and Hollywood gossip clipped from the pages of People, Us, and The National Enquirer and read breathlessly with much manufactured enthusiasm and amazement by Ryan and his cohorts. This is sad stuff.

Here's what's really scary. In the past few months, "On-Air with Ryan Seacrest" has spread to approximately 140 markets, including most of the 50 largest cities in America. How did this happen? The show has no record of ratings success. The content is no different and no better than the average local radio morning show. Okay, Ryan gets more and better celebrity guests, but who cares. There's absolutely nothing special about his interviews -- no intimacy and no revelations. Listeners can get the same information by reading the press release for the new movie, CD, book, or other project the celebrity guest is hyping. Make no mistake about it; these are not Howard Stern-like interviews. There are no surprises in Ryan's fawning and shallow conversations. The show is not live, but that probably doesn't matter given its content. It's just a bunch of unoriginal recycled bits from Ryan's morning show in Los Angeles, which by the way, is not even the highest rated show on KIIS FM. So, what's going on here? Why is this show spreading? It's definitely not a virus.

"On-Air with Ryan Seacrest" exists for two primary reasons neither of which has anything to do with what comes out of a radio’s speakers or making radio listeners’ lives better. First, Ryan Seacrest is famous -- not for extraordinary talent, not for producing amazing radio content, not for producing stellar Arbitron numbers. Ryan Seacrest is famous for being the host of American Idol. Ryan Seacrest is famous for his boyish good looks. Ryan Seacrest is famous for hanging out with Simon Cowell. Second, "On-Air with Ryan Seacrest" is cheap programming -- a money-saving alternative to paying local personalities in 140 markets. So radio station operators blinded by fame and celebrity and driven by the need to reduce expenses are programming this drivel. Yikes!

Radio is in deep doo doo right now. Radio needs to create relevant and original content to survive. Radio needs rebels, mavericks, characters, passionate artists and innovators. Radio needs people to challenge the status quo not perpetuate it. "On-Air with Ryan Seacrest" is the status quo -- a very ordinary and average version of it. Exactly what radio doesn't need right now.

Radio is headed for extinction if things don't change quickly. How did it come to this? Lee Abrams provided some pretty good answers in a recent interview conducted by Al Peterson at NTS MediaOnline. Here's what Lee had to say about the radio business and the source of great ideas. "Radio was one of the last great bastions of creative thinking. There were no rulebooks, you could come up with a new format idea in your basement, take it out and try it somewhere, and if it worked you were in business. Unfortunately the radio business, which was once a place with very few rules, evolved into a business with a whole lot of rules.... all great ideas start emotionally then you use science to determine whether or not you're full of it. In most big media today everything starts scientifically and the whole emotional component gets left out entirely."

Lee's description of how radio's best programming ideas came to be and where great ideas begin sounds remarkably like what's happening on the Internet today. All kinds of goofy original ideas are being created. There is lots of experimentation going on. People are creating stuff in basements and garages all over the world and putting it out there in cyberspace to see if it flies.

Big ideas like Google, Facebook, Pandora, and YouTube started as little experiments in a basement, garage, or dorm room. These ideas began with emotions, instinctive reactions to real life in the real world. The creators didn't do focus groups or seek approval from the corporate office. They just began to create stuff that they thought was missing in their lives, stuff they wanted and needed. They didn't try to predict how their ideas would be received or if they'd be accepted. They just created stuff they thought was cool and necessary. They created stuff that would make their lives and/or the lives of their friends better, more interesting, more fun.

This is exactly how many of radio's most successful formats and shows came to be. Rush Limbaugh created the show he wanted to listen to -- a show reflective of his ideals, his values and beliefs -- a show that broke the rules and challenged the status quo. He discovered there were lots of listeners just like him who were looking for a place to hang out and connect with like-minded people who shared their conservative values. Howard Stern created the show he wanted to listen to. Lee Abrams created a format with the music he wanted to hear. Both discovered lots of listeners just like them who liked what they liked.

Now radio creates stuff for some mythical target audience defined by simplistic and superficial research. No one breaks the rules or challenges the status quo. There's no experimentation. No risk taking. No new ideas. No innovation.

There is lots of cloning and copying. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern wannabes trying to duplicate everything these originals do. Nearly every morning show has a boy and a girl. Most are obsessed with presenting "pop culture" defined by superficial and sensational celebrity news and Hollywood gossip delivered by the girl. They talk about the same current events and news stories. Try finding a radio morning show this time of year that isn't talking about American Idol. Yes it's the top-rated show on television, but it's watched in less than 20% of homes with TVs. Radio morning shows across the dial and around the country use the same show prep services for their inspiration. Formats, music, and imaging -- all the stuff of radio programming -- have become fully homogenized at a time when the real world -- fueled by abundant entertainment and information choices made available by technology and the Internet -- has become anything but homogenized.

The problem with "On-Air with Ryan Seacrest" and far too much of the programming heard on the radio these days is that it's not distinctive, it's not relevant, and it's not essential to listeners because it doesn't make their lives better. That's why mobile phones, iPods, and computers are far more important in people's lives than radios.