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Jeff Schmidt

Radio -- The Soundtrack of Our Lives


One of my favorite definitions of a radio company came from Lew Dickey, president and CEO of Cumulus. I worked for Lew for 17 years. He said, Our company can be distilled down to 7,000 dedicated professionals and a bunch of used electronics equipment.

Nobody owns radio stations. What they own is a bunch of used electronics, and some real estate that is used to broadcast over the PUBLIC airwaves to serve the public. Its the people who make the magic happen.

History isnt crystal clear on the first radio station. By one account, on February 17, 1919, station 9XM at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, broadcast the first human speech. Other reports cite KDKA in Pittsburg as the worlds first commercial radio station. Leo Rosenburg on November 2, 1920, opened the microphone and said, This is KDKA of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in East Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. We shall now broadcast the election returns.

What is clear is that radios roots run deep. According to the Federal Communications Commission, radio and TV broadcasters are considered public trustees. They are licensed by the FCC to serve the needs and interests of their communities of license. Its not just a mission statement, its a requirement for being licensed . . . a requirement that must be met every eight years to renew a station license and stay in business.

Radio reaches over 92 percent of the population each week. Listen to some Wall Street analysts and you would think the end of radio is near. Year after year, radio has maintained its massive reach. Why?  Because only radio can do what radio does. When the sirens go off, the radios go on, and the community stays connected and is informed.

Radio is there when you need it.

Just a few weeks ago I called Dennis Lyle, president and CEO of the Illinois Broadcasters Association. Dennis was unable to talk for long because he was out in the field organizing relief efforts for the massive storms that ravaged Southern Illinois. Radio, there to inform you in the time of crisis, and thereafter for the cleanup and to organize help because of dedicated professionals like Dennis.

Sometimes it seems radio is its own worst enemy. Its not because of what radio does, its because of what it doesnt do. First it was 8-track tapes, then cassettes, then CDs, Mp3 players; now satellite and on-line thumbs up/down services" -- they were all going to be the death of radio. Radios 92 percent reach is more than all of them combined, and it hasnt gone down more than 2 pervent in decades. All the shiny new toys that catch Wall Streets attention, pale in comparison to radios 92 percent approval rating on Main Street.

Last month at the DASH Conference in Detroit, I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Paul Rotella. Paul is the president and CEO of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association. Hes a true advocate for radio and TV. Spend 10 minutes with Paul talking about radio and TV and if you arent filled with passion for the business, you dont have a heartbeat.

Paul agrees with the Edmund Burke philosophy: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Paul has been dubbed a radio warrior by Michael Harrison of Talkers magazine and Radio Info, and has led the way in New Jersey, celebrating radio and all things broadcast since 2008. Paul has created messages about the vitality of radio, the magic of radio, and the live and local impact radio has. He believes that a dedicated and consistent effort to celebrate the impact of radio on the radio by broadcasters is essential to ensuring the true story is being told.

Have you ever driven in a car when the radio doesnt work? Paul loves to ask. It's pure torture. People have no idea how much of an impact it has on them, until it's not there. You can find some examples of Pauls marketing efforts HERE. Paul is a true leader in creating a unified voice for radio in New Jersey. Hes not afraid to ask tough questions and doesnt mince words when it comes to talking about potential competitors.

The old marketing clich is, Tell them what you're going to do, do it, then tell them what youve done. For nearly 100 years, radio has been doing. Now I think its time to tell them what radio has done -- and continues to do. Not in a defensive way, but in a celebratory way that makes an emotional connection with the communities radio serves. You have a 92 percent approval rating. In politics, a 92 percent approval rating would be called more than a mandate for getting anything done.

A recent headline in Radio Ink was titled: We Need to Get In Their Faces. Heres an excerpt:

During the Radio Ink Forecast 2014 luncheon, Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman candidly spoke about his thoughts on the radio industrys need to be more in the face of marketers and not rely so heavily on agencies and buyers alone. He admits that many marketers dont always understand radio and its up to the leaders in radio to make them understand our business better.

I agree with Bob Pittman that the industry needs to be more in the face of marketers. The industry also has to be more in the ears of Main Street. Celebrate and remind them what radio does: Warning and preparing for a pending storm, storm coverage when the power is out, and relief efforts after the storm. Public service campaigns focusing attention on a community issue, a nation under attack, a Presidential weekly address, a high school football game, a community fundraiser -- these are all examples of the impact radio has every day. Radio is free and available to all. Radio has been a friend, an entertainer, an advisor, and a companion. Radio has provided the soundtrack of our lives.

Those are things to talk about. Those are reasons to celebrate. The effort must be universal. All stations, all companies, all markets. The message needs to be consistent and clear.

Bill Bernbach, in 1949, founded Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB). He said, The truth isnt the truth until people believe you, and they cant believe you if they dont know what youre saying, and they cant know what youre saying if they dont listen to you, and they wont listen to you if youre not interesting, and you wont be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.

Ninety-two percent of the population is listening to you each week. Will you tell them the truth, imaginatively, originally, and freshly? Paul Rotella is doing it in New Jersey. Who else is doing it?

Think Big, Make Big Things Happen!

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. Jeff and Chris believe that training is a process not an event, and people should buy training based on a desired outcome. You can reach Jeff at,,
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(12/3/2013 3:38:47 PM)
Jeff, with your opening salvo quoting Dickey, how much credibility do you have man?. The man is a joke, destroying the radio business, losing revenue at water front properties, and just waiting to buy a profitable company which will propel him another 5 years. I see guys like you at every NAB,lemmings who are better off pimping soft ware.

- Mike Wild

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