WHEN THE WORST HAPPENS, WHAT PART DO YOU PLAY?
That big corporate station has the resources your LPFM doesn't have but when a big weather event is unfolding or some other crisis, the question is what does your LPFM do?
For most LPFM stations, once the power goes, so do you. You can't help that. Aside from the ability to be on the air, what do you offer?
Every LPFM station has the opportunity to shine here. Many have in the past with nothing more than volunteers and desire to get the word out to save lives and property.
I'd suggest you work with the board on the idea of reaching out to all local authorities, getting contact information (not just the office phone) and creating a list of information sources where you can quickly get needed information and relay it on the air. It might be a couple of sheets in the back of your operations manual.
While on the operations manual, it should clearly tell the person what to do, who to contact and how to proceed. Everyone needs to have the information available to them at arm's length because when that day becomes very out of the ordinary, it just helps to not have to figure out where everything is. And you need to have a 'qualifier' to determine if you act.
I know more than one broadcaster in the LPFM realm that keeps a monthly calendar in plain sight in the on air studio. In one instance it has two names on each day of the month with cell numbers. These are volunteers that agree to come to the station in the event of say, a tornado outbreak. They're willing to rush to the station to make calls, gather information and act as a support for the on air host. In fact, this station has a number of weather observers they can call to get local conditions all over the county. In fact, most LPFMs center on just local information. Luckily LPFM covers a tiny geographic area and it's really easy to do versus a multi-county region.
Don't think posting online is enough. Here is why it is not: radio is trusted to a higher degree for accuracy in reporting information. Online is always considered to some degree to be opinion over fact. Media spent lots of time dispelling untrue statements posted online during the days that Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Finding all the information always means multiple online locations. Most folks want to know now versus looking at multiple sites and wading through comments to find the information they seek. Sure mirroring the information you have on the air on your webpage or Facebook site is a good idea.
Let me add, in one flooding situation in a major city that only affected about a quarter of the city, our legendary news/talk station simply said there were many road closures on my side of town, to go online to find out. I was without my cell phone as I heard that and noticed my exit was underwater. Radio let me down on reporting. In about 30 minutes of trying different routes and asking drivers, I found my way back home. Had the News/Talk outlet felt it was important to pay attention to the crisis hitting 1/4th of their metro I'd think I would not have tried so many routes only to be blocked by high water. Yep, I was working in radio then but my station was a daytime only AM off the air at sunset. In fact in such situations my station monitored this News/Talk station and other sources for any information we might have missed.
You want to position yourself to being a person's one stop for all they need to know, a place for accurate information. Nothing makes people madder than media that drops the ball in a crisis. This is your time to shine.
Pulling this off on air is something I have been a part of. It's a team builder. It's as fun as a junior high sleepover with your friends and you work your tail off but love every minute of it because you know you are helping folks with information so they can grasp the situation to make wise choices. There are many moments of uncontrollable laughter. And there's a lack of sleep. You might even amaze yourself with just how many hours you can stay focused and alert.
If you don't have a plan in place yet, put that on the agenda. Such events usually take us by surprise, coming out of the blue, so being ready to act by having a plan is a good idea. And review that list with thought.
I must share the Hurricane Rita evacuation in Houston. Local media got caught in a loop of reporting, not providing information. I found KLBJ in Austin, 2 hours away, doing wall to wall coverage. On the Austin station I heard about stores that were open, where to find gas, where the traffic was not moving and estimated times to get through a traffic jam. Houston radio was interviewing people who had only gotten a few miles in 14 hours on the road. KLBJ was telling you how to get out. Houston media wasn't. Remember, it's not describing the situation that counts but rather information that aids the listener and answers the questions they have. It's not that a tornado destroyed 90% of a community that counts but where there is shelter, food, water and medical services that does.
I have always said people tune to radio to learn their world is safe. When their world is not safe, they count on radio to tell them what the dangers are and how to cope. Some say I'm nuts for having that opinion but I see it every time a crisis hits. In fact, if you can be that source, you'll reap the benefits after the crisis.
HOW MUCH UNDERWRITING IS TOO MUCH?
Good luck finding the letter from the FCC to a LPFM station that turned in their license before the second filing window was being thought of. I am thinking this was the LPFM in Florida that used the moniker 'The Blizzard'.
The station was running fully produced, multi-voiced Underwriting messages that were, quite frankly, written in the style of a commercial without exceeding the Underwriting Rules. Here's what is tricky. There is really not a rule that Underwriting cannot sound identical to a commercial in style. Still the FCC admonished the station, their word. They noted it sounded too much like a commercial station.
So, the question is what does that really mean? Was it the 4 stop sets of 4 Underwriting units an hour placed in the middle 5 minutes of each quarter hour (aka the Arbitron clock)? Was it that the messages were multi-voiced and slickly produced? Was it both quantity and production values?
All we can do is guess. While I do not have the 'opinion' of the FCC except in memory, I can gather their suggestion of 6 units an hour was a guideline. I figured I'd look at other public stations. An NPR station ran 35 Underwriter Credits in an hour during All Things Considered. Granted this was a statewide network, so those 35 credits included national, state and local combined. NPR uses 8 second credits. The state network uses 15 second credits (officially up to 40 words with header).
The difference in the 35 per hour and 16 per hour, I feel, has less to do with quantity but production values and length. The 35 units accounted for about 7 minutes, maybe 8 at the most. The 16 units was easily 8 minutes as these "thirty seconders" were stretched to maybe 35 seconds in some cases. So, time spent was about equal. That leads me to suspect shorter units are better in line with what the FCC likes. I note the 35 I heard on the NPR program sounded like Underwriting. The 16 on that LPFM did sound like a commercial on any other station that we might refer to in commercial radio as an institutional spot.
The FCC applied another so called unwritten rule to WOBO FM for 'menu listing'. This is a list of products and services a business offers. They fined the station for 5 products being in a short spot of about 15 seconds. In fact, I read the Underwriting Credit that drew the fine and didn't see the issue. It looked perfectly legal to me: short, concise and clear.
Kevin Fodor offered the best advice I have seen. He suggested not more than 7 components to the Underwriting spot, saying a communications law blog suggested it. The business name, address, phone, website and products listed all count as 1 each. Kevin even said he likes to stay at 6 instead of 7. That's my philosophy too. My thinking is to separate that line in the sand with a little distance to make sure things don't go awry.
But what of the number of units in an hour? How is that figured? What is the lay of the land on averages? Is it by hour, day, week, month, season? I recall stations that were easily 50% commercials in towns during summer but they struggled to sell even a spot an hour in the off season. I visited KBUX in Quartzsite, Arizona. When I visited all their revenue came when the winter visitor headed to their town and before they left to go back north. I worked stations where you had 16-18 units an hour on weekdays but almost no spots at night and definitely none after 10 pm. Sundays were only about 3 or 4 spots an hour during the afternoon. Back in the self-imposed 18 minutes an hour days stations used seasonal, monthly, weekly and daily averages. That actually jives with one branch: the Postal Service. To keep your mailing permit for newspaper of general circulation, the average cannot exceed 75% advertising and must include 25% editorial content. That's based on an annual average. The Post Office knows there are seasonal variances. I'd use that example if questioned although the post office is not technically a federal agency.
So what is too much Underwriting? Yes the FCC suggested 6 an hour to one station, only one time I know of. Many times they suggested not more than 20 seconds because your risk the chance of violating Underwriting Rules the longer it gets.
I'd suggest not exceeding 6 Underwriting breaks in an hour. I think the number in the break is less important than the actual length of the spot. As Kevin Fodor pointed out, it would be really tough to make it in a small town on 6 units an hour. In such an instance you have to sell cheap and get as many (the bulk of) businesses involved with your station to survive.
There's one LPFM I know of that runs about 12 to 14 Underwriting credits an hour. Businesses get up to 30 seconds. Everybody runs 24/7. They have community announcements at the top and bottom of the hour plus weather at 15 past and 15 before the hour. Each feature has 2 sponsors, one going in and one going out of each feature (this is 8 total). Then at about :23 and :53, they run 2 or 3 Underwriters in a stop set. They're a small town full service local station.
To my ear they don't sound too cluttered and I really couldn't see them getting slammed by the FCC. In fact, as many units as they play per hour, they barely get by. The reality they face is only a couple of businesses in town can afford to do traditional advertising. Most of the businesses in the town do under $100,000 in sales annually and many of those under $50,000. They price themselves so the person with a hobby they turned in to a pert time business can afford to be on. If you can spend $5 a week you can be heard. In fact, they see their Underwriting as benefiting their community equal in importance to community announcements and such. They are a small community threatened by the national chains that offer the same for less if you spend more than you save on gas to get to the bigger town down the road. A healthy local economy is served through Underwriting on a little station in a town small enough few of its size have such a local service.
Last is the station that runs 60 to 70 second Underwriting credits without the FCC getting upset it seems. These units are played one at a time, not more than 6 an hour, and are story-like. It's folksy. I will paraphrase: "Jeff and Monica were regular summer visitors for years while their children grew up. Eventually they bought a summer cottage and they always got in plenty of fishing. They still do. Once the kids were grown they decided to move to our beautiful valley, something they dreamed about for years. Jeff worked for a big home builder in the city, so he and Monica decided they'd help folks create their dream homes here. That was in 1992 when Smith Custom Homes opened their doors. They're still at it, building dream homes one at a time. Combining Jeff's skills in building and Monica's flair for interior design, they take on clients to provide the personal touches and amenities each client desires. Jeff and Monica are available to speak with you by phone at 555-1212. In fact, that will be Monica that answers the phone. Or you can stop by. Their office is next to their home on Big Valley Road. The address is 4200 Big Valley Road just east of Highway 25. We here at Valley Radio appreciate Jeff and Monica at Smith Custom homes for supporting the station".
I sure would not want to comment on the above other than to say I really enjoyed hear such Underwriting. It did not seem like they were doing anything more than introducing a neighbor. All their Underwriting sounds like this, story-telling and folksy. It must work for the station since you hear almost everyone month after month.
CREATING YOUR UNDERWRITING RATE CARD
Your rate card is the precise details of what the Underwriter gets for the check they write you. It is not vague, uncertain and not specific. It leaves no guessing, no wondering just what those dollars buy the Underwriter. If you say for $1,000 a year you get mentions all year, you are saying absolutely nothing. If I said for $200 I'd provide oranges to you all year, I might mean one a day but they buyer might think something else. Nobody will take you up on it because they really don't know what they are getting. This is a very common mistake.
Your rate card should imply demand. When you are selling, one very important thing is to create the concept of value. I am not talking results. I am talking demand. Demand, for example, is why peak hour announcements and sponsorship packages carry a higher rate. The higher rate indicates more businesses want these offerings. So, you create demand by doing this.
I want to mention the GRID RATE CARD. I have worked selling by Grid Rate Card.
The Grid Rate Card is directly related to demand. I think you might have noticed businesses prefer certain hours or certain days versus every day and any hour. Likewise, more retailers want to be on the air in the Christmas shopping season than in January. The jeweler wants on in peak months when higher priced items are purchased (think Mother's Day, wedding months and engagement months such as February for Valentine's Day). The Grid Rate Card encourages Underwriting planning ahead of time.
Most radio stations have a limit on how many units they will play each hour. As those hours begin to fill up and get closer to that maximum number, you find yourself in good demand. The Grid Rate Card means your rates vary by demand. In other words, when you have the fewest units sold you are on the lowest grid. When the number of units rise, you charge the next highest grid until your demand ceases.
Here is what I mean. In January a client might plan their whole year. They can buy every month at the lowest Grid rate. As you sell more of those annual packages you find the number of units per hour rather high in the best weeks, so the client that waits pays the next highest rate because there is demand for these peak weeks. So, as you sell your Underwriting, the Grid rates makes them plan ahead to guarantee the lowest rate per unit. They know if they wait it will cost them more per unit.
From time to time you want to raise your rates to reflect demand and to adjust for cost of living increases. Generally speaking, when you are selling units at a rate that is not the lowest grid rate, it is a good idea to raise your rates, making the 2nd lowest rate on your grid the new lowest rate.
Let me show you how a Grid Rate Card might look:
Grid 1: $7
Grid 2: $6
Grid 3: $5
Grid 4: $4
You begin selling units at Grid 4 rates. Once your inventory hits 50% consistently, you might jump to Grid 3. Tell the clients this. They understand the demand varies and they want the lowest rate so they are moved to 'buy' months ahead to get that lowest rate.
My rule of thumb was when inventory hits about 80% I issue a new rate card, say starting at $8 on Grid 1 and $5 on Grid 4. Those that bought at $4 get their $4 rates for the length of the contract but new purchases are at the $5 rate.
I like the Grid Rate Card because it implies demand that can change the Underwriter Rate upward as more Underwriters sign up.
Another factor is many larger stations use the Grid Rate Card. In fact, we used the Grid Rate Card in a town of 30,000. In fact, by implying demand, we raised our rates from $6 to $14 in a mere 5 years with those rates being the lowest grid price. That station was commercial and kept a strict policy of 6 units an hour and 3 sponsorship spots in an hour (weather twice an hour; news headlines once an hour as sponsored features with 3 commercials next to the two weathercasts). For the record, there were 4 stations in that market and we were two stations that nabbed 2 out of 3 dollars spent on radio in that market by implied demand. We had many month after month advertisers because they set aside a budget each month of the year to buy units at the lowest rate. In fact our competitors charged $5 and $2.50 respectively. Simply put 'demand' raised our rates.
A rate card based on number of units does not create the same demand but is also effective because by signing up for larger packages, the rates were lower.
The only drawback to the Grid rate card is that it does not discount for quantity. It only discounts for long term buys by being on the lowest grid rate. If you bought 5 units a week or 25, the rate per unit was the same. With the Grid, this meant the 260 per year client paid the same rate as the 1,300 per year client. Since businesses like special deals, we assembled some easy to execute bonuses to account for the lack of price break on frequency. Those bonuses were generally short term packages we sold small businesses. For example a local town festival might be promoted on air and tagged by a few businesses each time a promo for the festival aired. We'd offer something along this line as a bonus, as many as 4 in a year, for an annual big advertiser. It was always something that took very little time and execution was simple. In fact, by having major advertisers getting this as a bonus, it encouraged small businesses to buy the package because a few big boys in town were doing the same package.
THE SKINNY ON HURRICANE HARVEY
It began as a tropical wave that was having trouble maintaining itself. Local forecasters said to watch this thing because it was really in warm gulf waters. News crews went to panic mode: get water, food and gas now. At that point it's not even a storm and might just fall apart.
Fast forward 48 hours and Harvey is a Cat 3. It hits the coast. Forecasters are rather surprised it didn't hit Corpus Christi dead on. The forecasters warned they had no clue what Harvey would do. They explained the computer models are based on past storms. There are not examples of Hurricanes not being directed by various fronts, highs and lows. There was nothing to move Harvey along. The models had no clue what Harvey would do. Forecasters were stymied.
Houston was on the dirty side of Harvey but far away. In fact, it was so much closer to San Antonio than Houston. Sure, Houston would get feeder bands but the further from the center, the less intense they are, normally.
Harvey was able to be fueled by sitting partly on land and partly off the coast giving never-ending fuel for Harvey. It was Saturday night. Feeder bands began spinning out of the gulf, with as many as 4 outer bands connecting together to create a wide swath of rain. The bands began building as far south as Brownsville, maybe 200 miles distant by air. The spin of these bands creates training, or shall we say the whole band down to Brownsville would pass over the same part of Houston.
These were unanticipated tropical downpours, in some instances, 4 inches an hour. Hours and hours later, the rain lightened for a few hours. Then it began again for hours. Another few hours to catch the breath, then even more bands just like before. It just never stopped. And Harvey didn't move more than a few miles each day.
What was only expected to be a breezy and rainy Saturday night wound up being days of downpours. Officially 51.88 inches of rain.
Media reacted. It was pure chaos. Police, Fire and others could not move in to the worst areas. Flooding prevented these first responders, not just them getting to work but getting to where they were needed. 911 got 56,000 calls along Saturday night. It was taking 4 hours to get through. I want to emphasize extra manpower needed could not get to where they needed to be because of the massive flooding.
Media stepped up to the plate asking for citizens who could help those in their immediate area. Citizens responded. Being aware of the situation, many states and the federal help began moving toward Houston but was unable to reach the city.
Today is Thursday, day 7. TV is still 24/7 with evacuations still happening. It is the lifeblood of the city. It's the central place to get information out and provide answers. It is still not over. After the rain began to run off to the gulf, the rivers that drain through Houston are beginning to set all time record levels of flooding.
The geographic magnitude is amazing. From Corpus all the way in to Louisiana and north in to central Texas, areas got wind damage and/or flooding. Whole cities have been evacuated. Bay City was to go to Belton. Pull up a map to get a grasp of this. I'm in an area about 70 miles from downtown that got 32 inches of rain. We did just fine here, at least for a few miles.
So, what does this have to do with radio? It is crucial. Radio is the last line of communication. When cable goes out, cell tower equipment is flooded out and when the electricity goes, radio has it's chance to really shine.
This is when radio informs, advises, shares tragedy and random acts of kindness. Radio creates safety, dispenses knowledge and shares hope. We have seen stations go above and beyond. KCYB 103.5 in Cypress worked 24/7 by carrying KHOU TV audio and backed it up with local information. They would have loved to had the resources to be all local 24/7 but with two volunteers and without the income and resources of the big commercial stations, KCYB, Radio Cypress, proved itself as the source of vital information as a Low Power FM in a way that goes way above and beyond.
There may be other LPFM stations in greater Houston that provided the same. We may never know. If I did not know KCYB personally I never would know. If you ask KCYB, they just did what they were supposed to do for their community. They don't look for a pat on the back.
Hurricane Harvey set record rainfall. It will eclipse Katrina in destruction and loss. In fact Harvey produced so much water, if you filled New Orleans with Harvey's water, New Orleans would be under 126 feet of water! If Harvey had a nearby high pressure system to steer it, Harvey would have been just a breezy rainstorm.
What is truly heartwarming is the kindness of humanity. The outpouring of support even among those that lost it all. is beyond imagination. And they need it. Imagine getting out with the clothes on your back. No car. Your employer was flooded and you don't know if you have a job. Your house is gone and you were so far from any flood zone you didn't buy flood insurance so your homeowners insurance is not going to pay for the flooding. And your kids suffered the same. Their situation is worthy of your help. Houstonians are so thankful for the help they feel they could never repay because the value is so much more than financial.
WHY NOT GET IN TOUCH?
When you get a couple of emails over a week's time suggesting what is posted on Facebook and contained here is being passed around to LPFM stations, I get curious.
If that is happening, it is these emails that have told me so. I really don't hear from many LPFM stations. Granted some stations are pretty regular at staying in touch. I heard from two yesterday. I responded to their emails. In fact, they both inspire me with their level of dedication and hard work in serving their communities.
If you've never been in touch, please do. I enjoy hearing about your successes and challenges and certainly if I can offer some additional information you might consider, I am flattered. I want LPFM to be a success. If I can be a tiny part of that, great.
So, feel free to connect by clicking the contact me button.
If you want, join the site. It is free and you will not get emails cluttering your inbox. I doubt I send an email once a year and I sure don't sell or rent those email addresses.
TRYING CROWD FUNDING?
Most who attempt this are not successful. It seems the concept is not well understood.
Here's what I learned: the two components are "crowd" and "funding". The first objective is creating a crowd. You not only have to find your crowd but convince them you are worthy of some cash. Second is the funding. Only after you create the crowd and convince them what you are doing is worthy of some of their hard earned dollars, the website acts in much the same way as PayPal or a credit card like MasterCard or Visa, by giving you a centralized location to collect the funding. Literally the crowd funding site is only a common venue where your self-generated crowd can give.
Don't expect pennies from heaven. You might get enough activity that a stranger or two will give but the reality is the stranger will likely be a person that is a friend or neighbor of someone you recruited to go to the site to donate.
Realize radio is much more important to us than it is to the listener that has many choices on the dial already. Comparing to a child that is suffering and needs money for an expensive operation, radio has zero 'heart string' rating. In fact, the suffering child gets those dollars through exposure, maybe a news story on the evening news. In other words, people just don't find it because it's posted but because they were informed by other sources. And, trust me, that suffering child gets the donation before you will.
The truth is you can claim your station will do this or that and the 'heart string meter' never moves. It just doesn't excite folks like it does radio people. Sure, you need to say what you'll do.
Many of the stations that get some crowd funding are already on the air. They have a group of listeners and they are a known commodity. If you are not on the air there are many potential givers that think they'll donate once it is a done deal. These people have seen lots of folks claim they'll do this or that but never quite make it past square one. I'm not talking showing off your CP but actually being on the air before the person gives.
Stations have made crowd funding work, but their story is really about the work they did in creating the crowd that funded them. They already sold the idea to the masses and some responded. In fact, they might have done just as well without crowd funding. All the website did was create a common venue for giving. So until you beat the bushes and get everybody talking about you, you are likely beating a dead horse instead.
Unless you bring the crowd, as a former boss used to say, that dog won't hunt.
LOOKING AT WHAT LPFM HAS IN COMMON WITH RADIO
Maybe I'm weird. I tend to look at what we have in common instead of what makes things different. Much of what guides me in Low Power FM comes from small market commercial radio. Before you allow any attitude to shade that statement, I'll explain. Maybe you can see it from my side.
Radio in small towns is much like living paycheck to paycheck. You have to make a little go a long way. You are very limited in what you can do. Many times there is never enough revenue, never enough talent and never enough expertise. You have to get by on your wits because there is nothing else. Many times it is about keeping the peace to get the bulk of the revenue and listeners. Losing an advertiser likely means getting by on fewer dollars because there is not someone to replace them.
With Low Power FM, we are bound more on geography. We reach only so many potential listeners. Only so many businesses are in the 60 dbu. Only so much funding is available. You're typically stuck with volunteers but there are never enough. Frequently there is a lack of expertise. The Low Power FM has to be creative and live by it's wits to survive.
In my mind, I see lots of commonality between the commercial small town station trying to survive off it's community and the Low Power FM no matter it's location. Even as far as commercials versus underwriting, many small town commercial stations stress 'top of mind awareness' and 'supporting the community via supporting the station'. I even worked an AM daytimer in a town of 3,100. I was there about 9 months. I never ran a price and item ad or even one that bragged about how great the business was. All of my regular advertisers either wanted to sponsor a feature, sponsor high school sports or just wanted to remind the listeners they existed. Almost every spot could have been altered slightly to fit underwriting rules. In other words, what the client wanted to say did not violate underwriting rules.
There were no promotion dollars. In fact there was never any surplus. It was always a fight to do more with less money. We tried to involve everyone we could with the station because it helped us to maximize our number of listeners and every business owner knew someone, friend or family that had some connection to the station.
As a result, pay was miserable and you got only entry level people. In that, we were ill equipped for our duties but, as they say, we gave it a shot, including myself. We really didn't do a great job but we tried and the audience was forgiving enough to just be thankful we were giving it our all.
Our goal was to leave no stone unturned, no matter the work involved. To survive, we had to. Everyone in that town associated the station with our faces. The station had to give a reason to as many people in town as possible to claim the station as their hometown station. As employees, the station was sort of the cheerleader for the town. We really tried to be an audio version of life in that community.
As you reflect on these words, no matter your opinion of commercial radio, I have to ask you, how much of this sounds like the objective of your Low Power FM? If this rings true, my next question is how much of the station's over the air sound is what you want versus what those people in your 60 dbu want? More often than not, if the station is not exactly to your liking, you are more than likely following the right path.
VOLUNTEERS ARE NOT EMPLOYEES AND OTHER SAGE ADVICE
I was talking with a guy that got his LPFM station going in the first window. He has been on the air about 11 years. Much has happened. There have been good and bad times for him.
His board created a lengthy power struggle that evolved with every person except the President resigning within a year. He survived. The transmitter died. He barely raised the cash for another. If it wasn't for a loaner, he felt he might not have made it. If you think raising money is hard with your LPFM on the air, try to do so when you're off the air.
He's looked at all kinds of ways to involve volunteers but never gets many. He looked at and tried all kinds of funding ideas and most had less than great results. In fact, the programming philosophy he held strongly to was trashed.
His station is a survivor. It survives every day, day by day just like every other station on the dial. And he has made a difference in his community. He's made them think, get angry, fall back in love with their town, cry and laugh together. He has entertained and informed along the way.
Such a broadcaster surely has some sage advice for the much more youthful LPFM station. In fact those words were sort of prophetic.
Your ideas for your station never materialize as they do in your mind and the minds of board members. You have to point the direction, fire the starting gun and let the community run the race. They will create the path you follow.
Your volunteers are not employees. They will do what they want when they want no matter what you do. If you try to make them do something or even ask them to do something, it gets done only if they choose to do it and it is done on their timetable, not yours. His lesson was it is easier to do it yourself. In fact, if you assign it and it gets done, the end result will be far removed from what you wanted and any change will upset the volunteer.
Getting by is never enough. You can get out there and work to find the funding but it will never be enough. Like your car, it might run just fine for months and months then one day it won't start and the repair bill will put you in panic mode. You will always need more.
People will take sides. The board will argue. The volunteers will not all get along. Some volunteer or program will offend some in your community and you can count on the rumor mill making it worse. You can count on some Underwriter pulling the plug on funding. Sometimes more than one.
You will never be appreciated. You will never get across your perceived value. You will be taken for granted. You will be criticized when you deserve it and when you don't. That pat on the back is rare if at all.
You will have a circle of listeners, a small group of supporters and a small group of volunteers that will love the station but none will share your entire vision for the station. So, your lofty goals will never happen. You'll learn to be happy with what you get and strive to do more. There will never be enough listeners, supporters or volunteers.
You will see changes in the community and know your LPFM was the spark. They won't see it, but you will.
You'll come to accept the community's idea of what you are and set your idea behind in favor of the community's.
You'll know you took a dream to reality. You raised it and brought it to where it is. The LPFM might have it's own mind and take action on its own but you guided it, nurtured it and it takes its place in the community. It may not have done exactly what you wanted but you are proud of what you raised.
The biggest lesson is you have to do it yourself. Your board, your volunteers and the community won't or can't do it. It all falls at your feet. You have to do what needs to be done. It really is like a baby. When that baby cries at 3 in the morning, you will be the one that does the 3 am feeding no matter how much support you have. You have to make the time, stay focused and just do it because it won't get done without you.
It's a thankless job but you can take heart in knowing you'd be missed if you weren't there tomorrow.
You are only remembered for what your station does today. Make every day count.
No matter what you do, you'll never quite reach the finish line where you can breathe a sigh of relief. The race continues every day and you had better have your running shoes on. You will always be only a few steps from the finish line. You fight the good fight every day.
LPFM'S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
I was messaging a fellow that started his own LPFM. His wife and her disinterested brother make up the board. Quite frankly, it is his baby because the wife and brother-in-law are there for little more than the board meetings. His wife's brother is a tax guy, so he keeps the guy on the up and up. He just can't figure what he is doing wrong.
The fellow is a golden voiced, top notch radio guy that knows programming better than the back of his hand. He has a clue about the sales side of the building too. In fact his media kit looks pretty decent. I could show it off to businesses and feel pretty good about the product I'm offering.
He admits he can do sales, but he is not happy doing it and thinks he is not very good at it. He gave it a shot at a couple of smaller stations early on in his career and decided it was just not for him. I told him I did too and I wasn't very good either until this major market GM at a leading station spent his life's savings to buy in to a station as a managing partner. He dispelled all the stereotypes and negative thoughts I had about sales. He molded me in to a salesman, not an order taker nor some fast talking schmuck in a plaid polyester suit with a cheesy smile.
The fellow told me he had found a few to go out to sell Underwriting but nobody brought in an order. They'd work a few days at it and then just vanish, usually without saying they quit. He just couldn't understand why this pattern was being repeated. He said these people said they could sell. In fact one sold for a print publication and offered to pitch the station as well. While that seemed like a sure thing, the orders didn't come and the person finally said it was not working out. The truth was the print salesperson would make more off a print order than an Underwriting order, so the radio station never came up much. A month with no contact and no orders told the story.
I had the heart-to-heart with him. It was painful.
You can't attract a good salesman because a good salesman is already making good money somewhere. Simply put, you could never afford them. Next I explained he was offering a job at zero salary. All the risk and all the cost is on the salesperson. You have no skin in the game. I said sales are not instant but take time. I shared that sales happen when the client builds trust in the person and simply has the time to figure out they like the person.
I shared that nobody in their right mind would take a job that did not offer a salary. I asked if he would. Then I said the sad truth is you are going to have to swallow hard and go out and do some sales. I said part of managing is having knowledge of each position at the station. Only by understanding what your salesperson faces on the streets can you help them achieve success. And you'll need to pay them something for using their gas, time and effort. You have to come up with that money.
Last, I suggested he might think about trying to find some young mothers who might want to earn some money. I specifically say young mothers because of the two sexes, females tend to be a bit more intuitive and understanding than their male counterpart. A stay at home mom raising children had better have plenty of both.
Anyway, a young mother likely can devote a day a week to selling Underwriting. If she can't work a regular Monday, let's say, perhaps she could some other day of that week. If fact if you find a couple of ladies, perhaps one might babysit for the other.
The sad truth is whether you love or hate sales, the money will not come until you make it happen. All I can say is your mind is making it harder than it really is, should you dislike sales.
Ask any business owner and you'll get this answer: nobody will work harder, longer and more diligently than the person that owns that business.
WHAT SHOULD MY LPFM CHARGE FOR UNDERWRITING?
I wish there was an open and shut answer. About 50% will be determining the value from the perspective of what the business spends. The other 50% is being in the ballpark for what others charge. But that takes a bit of figuring.
If the typical business spends, say $100, in other media each month, then your package needs to offer enough frequency to get your audience to hear about the business. Once a week won't work and you don't need a dozen a day. In fact about 3 or 4 maximum per day is very ample.
You do need to ask yourself what other media charges. If you got a weekly rate, how does that compare to you? You might say you don't really know how many listeners you reach each week. That is a fair statement. It is also fair to say a newspaper might print 1,200 copies and get 1,000 in the hands of readers weekly but how many really see that business card ad in the paper?
The reality is we can guess at our audience size. How do similar stations do? How many listeners do you meet at a community function compared to the number of folks you actually think attended the event. I'd likely multiply that by at least 10 to as many as 50 for each one you know listens. Where do I get that? 10% of Public Radio listeners donate under the perfect conditions. Only about 2% of listeners will call a station.
If you'd compare how much a newspaper charges for a column inch versus the number of actual readers (see the Postal Service Form they publish in an October edition of their paper), it is usually between 10 and 20 cents per subscriber with the lower number more common (ie: one paper with 527 subscribers charges $5.50 for example meaning a 4 column inch ad, the typical business card size, is $22 a week).
Using my example of the actual newspaper in the paragraph above, I'd likely go for about $21 a week for a message a day 7 days a week or $3 per announcement. That puts me in the ballpark and asking a monetary amount per week that is proven to be what an advertiser pays per week for a minimal ad.
You might say, but that's for an ad but I can't run ads. True, but a business card ad is typically exactly the verbal content of an Underwriting unit. In fact, the business card says the business name, what the business does and how to reach them. Perhaps it includes a couple of brand names or business hours, all allowed by Underwriting rules.
You might modify that $3 per unit based on what you think your audience size might be. If you think you have a third of the paper, offer 3 units a day. If it might be half, offer 2 per day for that weekly rate.
Just remember, the more it costs per month the fewer the number of businesses can afford you. But most scary of all is being so low priced the business owner thinks even at that low price, you're probably not worth it. That's even true if you phrase it as a donation versus Underwriting. Many stations made the mistake of being so cheap they think nobody could say no but in reality the business owner thinks what they get has no value at all.
If you went to buy a new computer, you might expect a few hundred dollars for what you want for home. If you saw a computer for $19.95 would you say "Heck yes!" and buy two or would you think it must be a lousy choice and likely not even worth $19.95?. We really do know you get what you pay for.
MY LPFM HAS TERRIBLE COVERAGE
"My engineer thought I'd reach towns a few miles away which is why I selected a small town halfway between for the station. Then with the translators, my coverage suffered more. I got my engineer out who said it was all it could be. A second opinion said the same. So, instead of reaching 30,000, I'm stuck with about 1,000 that can hear my station."
This has happened time and time again. The truth is, the distance to the towns is simply beyond your typical range even in ideal conditions. You have a choice: move if you can or squeeze that lemon for everything you can get. More than likely you are probably stuck with a juicer and a bag of lemons but that does not mean defeat!
It's time to retool. It is time to get really local. It is time to keep costs as low as possible and maximize what you can. My inspiration came from a tiny paper in a town of 600 between towns of about 15,000 and 20,000 respectively. He only has about 150 total subscribers and about 60% are out of the county. His town has 6 businesses, that's all. His little paper charges $2 a column inch. He has about 40 businesses advertising, mostly buying a business card or 4 column inches, some buying 2 column inches and a few buying a 1 inch ad. He has one local advertiser.
So, why does he have so many ads? He goes to those big towns and says he super-serves his town and for a low amount of about $30 a month you can reach his readers that shop in those towns. Business owners get that and they realize fewer people likely get the big town papers.
But what does this have to do with radio? Everything. His is the only source of his little town's information. The big towns never do any local coverage of that small town. He owns the town as far as reaching those people with information important to them. That's the selling point.
Your solution is to super-serve those 1,000 and don't worry about those you don't reach. Customize your programming to be the best choice on the radio dial for those 1,000 people. If that means everybody likes Lawrence Welk, play Lawrence Welk instead of Aerosmith and AC/DC which was your original plan. It might not be your cup of tea but it never was supposed to be since you are there to serve the community, not be your personal jukebox.
Long ago I sold ads for a paper in a town of 1,500 when between radio jobs. I walked in to businesses in the 40,000 population town and said, here is the only media serving the 1,500 people there. Do people from that town buy from you? They did. I noted their business was not in their phone book and these folks didn't read the bigger town paper because there was no local news from the town in that paper. I said if they wanted to reach the town, this newspaper had the monopoly. I walking in about $800 in weekly ads in 5 days. About 60% bought, many on the spot. The average was $20 a week. The car dealers bought $40, $40 and $80 a week respectively. A propane company with customers there bought the Church Calendar signature ad for a year because the owner was Christian. And I was not a good salesman. In fact I knew little about sales but simply gave some thought to why they should buy. I figured that local radio didn't reach there very well, that the big city paper was not available at local store in the town and the Yellow Pages were specific to that little town built a good case for buying an ad in the town's only media. I figured if the business owner had customers from that town, they had already sold themselves.
DID RADIO LOSE IT'S 'SOUL'?
A post on a radio discussion board got me thinking. Let me share:Having been on the air in the turntable, cart slinging, rip and read from the teletype days, then in to sales and finally management, I have seen so many changes in radio that if you took me in my first job to the present day I likely would not really recognize this business as radio. That's good and bad.
I felt the passion with KKAJ in Ardmore, Oklahoma in it's earliest days as an AC days, Top 40 nights 'concept' format where jocks were allowed to only back announce songs. In short, passion made me listen to stations that did not always fit my preference, not because I loved radio but because that fun was somehow conveyed beyond mere words. I still catch it here and there but there was a time is was the odd station that didn't have it, regardless of format and delivery style..
LPFM STATION AVAILABLE
This is a LPFM available to a group willing to get it back on the air. The party looks to recover half of the engineering expense: $1,500.
This one will take some work. It would need to be someone local or someone willing to go there are and work it.
It seems two folks involved with the station have abandoned the station leaving the surviving board to try to save the station. It is my understanding the two that abandoned the station owned the equipment and it seems acquiring that equipment is not an option. Those surviving members do not want to operate the station and are more than willing to find an interested party to see that the station survives.
It seems the station was located at a home in an unincorporated community with about 6,600 in the 60 dbu. The business community is minimal, approximately 28 businesses and just under $5 million in sales. I'm guessing the house where the station was located is a rental. Moving the station is in the cards. I understand the station never built a local reputation so you would be starting fresh versus trying to get past any prior reputation.
The station can be moved. It can move 3 miles and hit a much more populous area with a good number of businesses that might underwrite. The area has lots of open land so a site will be no issue. The area is quite well populated and there are some lake communities that would be reached. This could be pretty interesting if you like small market radio for some communities that don't have a local station.
You would be buying all needed equipment, so the license is what you are getting for half of what the board invested to acquire the license (that's the frequency study, filing and then engineering to get it on the air to obtain the license). There is plenty of time left to get this going without having to get everything done as quickly as possible.
This is an above board deal offered by a fair and decent guy. If this sounds like something you might want to learn more about, just let me know by clicking to contact me. I am not a broker. I do not represent the seller. I do, however, hate to see a license go unused and a community unserved, so I'm willing to help spread the word. I will put you in touch with the board member I know.
PUBLIC BROADCASTER FINED $66,000
You have likely heard about this. It is rare when the FCC imposes such a fine. Let's look at why this happened.
First, the FCC is akin to the IRS. They make the rules and they interpret them. If you disagree, you ask the FCC to reconsider. In other words, they rule on their own decisions. My point is your interpretation matters less than the FCC's interpretation.
That simply means the FCC deserves respect. And the people at the FCC deserve the respect you've give to anyone. They're human. If you've seen any of the TV shows with police stopping people, you realize if you're decent to them and upfront they'll cut you a break where they have the ability to do so. The FCC can be very understanding and helpful.
This Alaskan public broadcaster began receiving notices of apparent violations demanding a response within so many days starting in 2013. Each violation came with the same notice of apparent violation and a chance to respond. Every time the station ignored the letters. They never responded.
So, what were the issues? There were Emergency Alert System violations. There was the main studio requirements (ie: a manager and employee available during normal business hours), no public file, no license posted and more. On the technical end, the transmitter was not accessible, could not be monitored nor adjusted and frequently nobody knew just what that transmitter was doing. I think there was more.
All those serious violations still would not get you to $66,000. That came because the FCC never got a response and the station never seemingly made any attempt to comply with the rules.
The station can show proof of their inability to pay the fine and the FCC can then lower the fine if they choose. After years of being ignored, I would not be too optimistic that fine will be lowered.
I think this might be a less costly choice for their tiny budget. They could just start a revocation hearing on the licensee. It's like less costly to fine them and when they cannot pay, simply refuse to renew the license, 'red lighting' it and putting a D in front of the call letters meaning the frequency allocated just goes away.
I think the station will be gone in the near future. Sadly, this was all preventable. Instead the licensee earned the accusation of 'lack of candor' and willfully violating FCC Rules. Those are the worst terms you can use to describe a licensee and the FCC doesn't use those words often.
The FCC acts as radio's police. What this station did was essentially refusing to stop when the police tried to get you to turn over and when they managed to force you to stop, you refused to roll down the window or even get out of the car. If you've every seen a cop show, I don't have to tell you it does not end well.
POTENTIAL VERSUS OPERATING COSTS
I was talking to a former radio station owner last week. He owned a few stations. I recall one was very full service (lots of news and information and country music) with a pretty heavy commercial load. Another of his stations I really liked. It was sort of a hybrid top 40, adult oriented but not adult contemporary,learning toward the rock artists family instead. The presentation was rigid with little news and few commercials. We talked about those stations and I learned something I wanted to pass along.
His choices were based on potential versus operating costs. You see his full service station was in a town that had a bunch of businesses, many small mom and pop types. His thinking was he needed a little from a lot of these businesses to be successful. And he was. He had the listeners and very ample support.
His second station was in a town about the same size but it had far fewer businesses. Those businesses tended to do a much larger volume of business and there were fewer moms and pops. This was the top 40 hybrid.
As he analyzed the market, he quickly realized the second station would never have too much of a commercial load because the number of businesses in the community was only about 25% of the first town. He figured he would need about the same money to make things work so he needed to offer something 'special' and charge a premium per spot. To do this, he needed the right on air presentation, establish long listening patterns and charge at least double what he did for a commercial. To justify this, he created more demand by lowering the number of commercials per hour. At the first station he had no limit to commercials per hour but in reality there was little need to set a policy since it would never get out of hand.
He admitted he had about a dozen spots an hour on his full service station and maybe half of those were sponsor of news, weather, bulletin board, swap shop, farm news and such. At his second station, the top 40 hybrid, most hours were about 4 spots an hour and very few at night and on weekends after about 1 pm on Saturday. He estimated 300 to about 325 a week.
The reason the commercial load varied so much was more than anything else about the universe of potential buyers and the actual fixed expenses of running the station. If he had charged about what he did with the full service station, nobody would buy more commercials than they needed, so he'd certainly lose money unless he charged a much higher price with a more sophisticated presentation on the air.
This should not be mistaken as programming for the advertiser. This is simple economics. Consider this: you make bars of soap, say, with goats milk. Ivory brand soap is on the grocery shelves. Simply put, you cannot make and sell enough bars of goats milk soap at the profit margin Ivory has on it's bar of soap to make it. You need to charge a premium and to justify that premium, you have to make it special enough to be worthy of the asking price. Thus, between these two markets, the price commanded by the stations was based more on what the business could afford for an effective schedule. In the community with so few businesses, the revenue they had was much greater allowing them to buy at a premium and still get an affordable effective schedule.
And that's the whole point. With your LPFM, it is important to know the universe of the business community in your 60 dbu and a general idea of their sales volume so you can determine pricing that allows you the operating capital to sustain the station. For almost all LPFM stations, due to the low operating cost, this is easy to pull off if you window dress it right.
Window dressing means how you create that value: your reach versus number of units per hour is a start. Obviously the $30 a month client is not too concerned if they are bunched with 2 others in an Underwriting cluster but the $150 a month client getting the same number of units might find it very valuable to know their unit plays all by itself and is at least 15 minutes away from the next underwriter heard on that station. And certainly pricing has to do with the number and size of the businesses in your 60 dbu. Lots of businesses means more clients at a lower rate while a few businesses means a higher cost per unit and few underwriting units aired.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO FOR A KLONDIKE BAR?
Talking to a LPFM station today I was trying to think of a way to get across to them that their plan was just not workable.
You see, for $100 a year they will let a business have an Underwriters spot a day, every day, all 365 or 366 days a year.
First, I think that is way too cheap considering how many you need to get to say yes just to pay the annual operating expenses and set a bit aside for a rainy day.
The real issue is selling it. They have sales volunteers that get a 15% commission upon payment of the $100. The sales people don't hang around, mostly giving it a shot a few days and vanishing from sight. They are scratching their heads and thought I might relieve their itch.
I explained that getting a $100 sale or a $1,000 sale takes time. Sure, it takes a little longer to sell that $1,000 sale but you are still stuck with letting a relationship between the business and station flourish and that takes as many as 5 to 8 visits. In dating, you usually don't propose on the first date and in sales they usually don't grab the checkbook on the first visit.
So that commission only salesperson is stuck paying gas to visit the business several times and investing at minimum a few hours to get that yes that means $15. Not to mention if you don't check back with that business through the year, you likely won't get that renewal. So after the time, gas and effort, I have to ask what you'll do for a Klondike Bar? That's because after expenses that about all that commission will buy.
Now, you want that salesperson to stick around. How many of those $100 orders do they have to get to just make minimum wage? Think about this. A salesperson really needs to be available when the client wants to see them. To accomplish this, your salesperson must have a flexible position in their day job. You can be relatively certain a full time sales position is not possible with a LPFM except in certain circumstances.
A typical salesperson in a generally concentrated geographic area can make about 15 sales calls a day. A salesperson must be able to earn enough to cover their actual costs of cruising town meeting folks and actually make enough cash for their time to stick around. That is 15 actual calls. If you don't have face time with the decision maker, you have not completed a call. You might have a 50/50 chance of face time on each attempted call.
You can use telemarketing but that will not be anywhere close to as effective as visiting the business physically. A guy I knew that made a living doing telemarketing radio advertising sales made up to 600 calls a day to make a living wage, never fewer than 400. And he had to do that every day and have a 'runner' to go pick up orders almost immediately because a yes by phone is shaky and if too much time passes you might find them having second thoughts within hours.
As you set up your Underwriting Packages and Commission Schedules, you really need to understand the lay of the land on the streets of sales and the compensation the rep can get that will keep them selling Underwriting for you.
The truth is selling Underwriting is different from selling commercials on commercial radio. In commercial radio you have to stay up on promotions, sales and such, changing copy to reflect that. While that is a factor in Underwriting, there is less demand than the seller of the traditional commercial. In commercial radio, 30 active accounts is about the most you can handle. For Underwriting, maybe as high as 75. In both instances, you have to make regular visits to the clients. I suggest about every week or two. Staying top of mind prevents little problems from becoming big and it tells the client they are important to you. This is how you get renewals.
So, before you send that person out to get those packages sold, you must understand the time, costs and potential maximum the person can achieve. Ultimately it is less about the per unit cost than the overall package rate. If the salesperson can't make some money in commission to pay their expenses and their time a revolving door of salespeople will follow with each successive person being less and less successful. Business owners buy from people that stick around and don't like it when there's always a new face. Real fact: a mass exodus of the two salespeople at one station that never skipped a beat in hiring new salespeople with experience selling radio drives this home. Billing went from $45,000 a month to $17,000 in a mere 30 days.
SO WHAT MIGHT BE A GOOD PACKAGE?
If you really want to sell at a low rate, I suggest a monthly rate that's hard to say no to. I especially like a rate keyed to an annual contract (two months up front with a spelled out penalty for breaking the contract that you can be a nice guy and give a free pass to keep the client from souring on your station).
I like a $20 to $50 a month range. Any business can afford that any day of the week, even the gal selling Avon or Pampered Chef would be hard pressed to say no. But at that rate I sure wouldn't give them much. At that rate you don't have enough coming in to be writing Underwriting spots, but a phone, website, address and business name works since you just fill in the blanks and run with it.
I really like KLFT's idea: Mike's Grocery on Main in
That gets you one mention a day and you play it in a different hour each day. With such short units you can bundle 3 to 5 of them in a break that barely exceeds 30 seconds.
What appeals to me most is: no copy changes, easy to execute with minimal time spent with no worry of violating Underwriting Rules or having to teach them to the sales rep and possibly the client who won't get why its that way anyhow. The package controls the spot content so you don't have any explaining to do about how the FCC won't allow you to say this or that.
But does it work? Sure it does. Most of the results from advertising is not price and item, sales or even competitive language but merely awareness and making the person familiar with the business even if by name only. And I might add, that "Support comes from" gives it even more of a push at success because it's almost like an endorsement from the station for the average listener.
So, as Clear Channel said: Less is more. And as my first boss in fast food, nothing works better than keeping it simple.
FOOTNOTE: On these packages, I like to 'discount'. For example: $50 to $100 a month or $25 and $60 a month on an annual contract with a $100 cancellation fee you can waive to be a nice guy. If they pay by draft or all at once (at least two months in advance) I offer $20 and $50 respectively versus $25 and $60 for monthly billing. And then I'd come back with, "At that rate let's go with two a day instead of one so we can double your awareness with our listeners. You're still under that monthly rate if you bought by the month. Can we go $40 (or $100) a month to double your awareness?"
And for your sales rep, they just made a commission they'll see all year but you better make that commission at least 25% or more. The sale is no longer $100 but $240 to $600. And knowing that is coming to you every month means you're less likely to leave the station. By the way, if they leave or just don't meet a minimum threshold, the account reverts to 'house' meaning they get no commission check. It is standard practice that if you leave so does your future commission because someone else must service your account. In fact, even if the client pays the whole year upfront, only dole out that month's commission, not the full year's for this very reason.
COULD YOU RUN FAKE NEWS?
Before you answer let's take a look at your research and fact checking. We live in a world where there is much more gray than black and white. That gray can get us in trouble. With using politics as a subject, you can look at carefully crafted comments that are fact supported. There is no denying the facts are accurate but they do not tell the whole story, only that portion that supports the comments. There is never full disclosure. And that's where you could easily venture in to fake news.
Comments are always piled upon. Each new item tossed on the pile moves further from reality until the true picture cannot be seen. As much as we want to say we are not 'politically' influenced in news gathering, we do have a preference or 'weight' given one side of the political aisle. It's this pile on that moves us further from a clear or should I say 'centered' position.
If we are going to remove ourselves from falling in to 'fake' territory, we have to look at all sides, weight all the facts and let things fall where the reality is. You can bet every press release doesn't do that. Every press release has an agenda it supports.
One thing to watch for is using old data to support their 'facts'. I like what one journalist told me: "it was a fact until it wasn't a fact". It's the facts that are no longer facts that take you from the wading pool to the deep end one little bit at a time, almost without realizing it, until the final product is so distanced from reality that it becomes fake news.
At one radio station a beloved teacher was fired. The community loved him. He was an exceptional teacher that truly cared and had accomplished a great deal. When the story broke, we felt the school board was a bunch of fools. The fact was teachers have to meet certain thresholds in learning along the way. If they don't take this or that course to stay current, they can lose their position. It's a state or national thing. In this instance the teacher had not taken the required courses.
The school board had to either move him to a lesser position or let him go. The teacher so was upset he literally forced the school district to fire him since he wouldn't take a demotion. The teacher wanted to stay in his position he had held for decades and get the time to take those courses but that was not an option per state and federal requirements. And to the teacher, a demotion was not something he'd accept, saying his performance over the decades should win out over 'requirements'. You can say that's not right but the school board can't change those rules nor ignore them.
The question was if the school district would get funding (most dollars for schools come from Federal and State sources with property taxes making up a smaller percentage). The real truth was the teacher didn't stay current and the school board was forced to make a very unpopular decision or lose tons of operating funds tax payers would have to foot and accept unaccredited status for the department this teacher headed. And they'd be penalized thereafter with less money until the problem was resolved. Funny thing, both sides responded by saying none of this but only trying to make their side 'look good'. It took a savvy news director to get to the meat of things. By taking the official press releases from both sides to report the story would mean the story would have been much more false than true.
LOCALLY OWNED BUSINESSES AND LOCALLY OWNED LPFM: A NICE ALLIANCE
When a new General Manager arrived at a poorly performing station where I was a DJ early on in my career, he ran a Buy Local Campaign talking about the benefits of shopping locally and what a great town it was. He used real local voices to communicate the message that was based more on facts than emotion. Needless to say, it was designed to get him in the door at the local business and to get him a chance to be known by the business owner.
It worked. That got me thinking. LPFM is in the same boat as the local business trying to remain relevant and important amid chain store and big corporations. So, why not champion local on the only truly local station. Even a local full power station targets a much larger area that a business trade area and you pay to reach all those extra people.
Here's a nice fact: For every $100 spent with a local business, $45 is generated in secondary local purchases. The big box and chain store only generates $14 in secondary local purchases. Dollars spent out of town are lost forever.
When dollars are spent locally, there are more tax dollars for the needed services of the city, county and school district. It is a barrier to higher taxes. In addition, the economic health of the area encourages new businesses providing needed services and products to the community.
Those local dollars pay paychecks, create jobs and generally keep population around and help the investment in a home a positive venture. And towns just look better. When everything is going well, there is a greater sense of community, volunteerism and pride.
So, your LPFM can target the local business. LPFMs are just like the local small business: struggling to stick around and provide a quality service amid competition from chain and big box stores (or chain and corporate radio companies) and out of town competitors.
What you will be doing might just be the greatest gift for your community: encouraging local shopping for the benefit of all. Best of all, about the only option a small business has to build awareness economically and in a meaningful way is your LPFM. After all, your LPFM offers Trade Area Marketing to reach actual potential customers without paying to reach people that will ever be their customer.
OWNING THE MEDIA IN YOUR COVERAGE AREA
I am pulling from four sources of information and actual examples. One is a newspaper that folded because of competition. Shoppers covering lots of counties, cable TV ad sales and online websites siphoned off dollars year after year until the owner decided to work for free and barely produced $3,000 a year in profit, if that. Another was a small market radio owner that saw local revenue drop substantially over about a decade to the point revenue was only 25% of what it was. In all fairness, Walmart opened in the next county and both Dollar General and Family Dollar both came to town. The third was a radio station owner that suffered from a plant closure and a consolidation of the school district that almost destroyed him. The last is a former boss.
All three were dedicated broadcasters where serving the community came first. The thinking was if the programming really served the community the sales to support it would follow. The newspaper owner felt the same way.
They all had advice. In short, they all said our world has changed and they missed the boat on this.
The advice I got was concise: own all the media you can. It was not greed that motivated this statement but a competitive solution.
"If I was you Bill, I'd get on the messages channel on cable TV so that when the cable company tries to sell spots on ESPN, CNN and The Weather Channel, you can say the advertiser is already on cable TV when they buy your station. I'd do a weekly free paper with print ads, your community calendar in print and let those who call the Swap Shop buy an ad. Always promote the station in that paper and set it out around high traffic areas. When those shoppers come after your advertiser, you have a way to keep them with you. Last, I'd have a website and I'd sell ads there and community announcements and swap shop items. When your competition tries to sell their online ads, you already have that option with your station. You bet it is hard work. You can bet your competition is selling hard and making a good case for their product. My point is they will win if you cannot offer what they offer as well. In the best case scenario, you tie up enough dollars so your competitor feels it is too much work to sell your clients."
"I know Low Power FM is non-commercial but I can tell you the station I had, (I had) a client bought the NPR Classical FM in the next county. Those dollars came right out of the advertising budget, the same budget I was getting a part of. You really got to get Low Power FM out of your head and think advertising venues. The business thinks of you as an advertising option, so you have to think competitively."
"And serve your community so well nobody has a chance to compete on the same level. Do what nobody else can do and do it well."
I can tell you this radio station owner I quoted is retired and has been a few years. What I remember is he never left things to chance. Anything he did had a reason, a way to reach the desired result and an expectation of doing it well. One thing I recall is he wanted us to check the AP ticker every 15 minutes. If we didn't he'd tear off the many feet long paper and pretend to scroll through it, then smile and say "Oops the world ended 30 minutes ago and we forgot to tell everybody". Then he'd smile and give you a quick wink. He was a great boss with a well run station when I worked for him.
WHERE THINKING CAN HURT US
There is a line of thinking among some Low Power FM stations that any form of advertising is wrong and not intended for LPFMs or any non-commercial station. I must say I'm somewhat mystified by this. I get being non-commercial and non-profit but I think you might be too centered on your thinking about advertising. There seems to be somewhat of a feel that advertising is evil and contrary to what you do.
I contend if your station is doing a fundraiser at a location and you print up flyers to go in store windows, you are advertising. If a decision on where to go for lunch pops up in the office and you suggest a place in hopes others might vie for the place you mention, you are advertising that business. I am sure you'd say neither are evil. Instead what you detest is the concept that advertising heads the list reigning over programming, etc.
Advertising happens. If you do as much as mention a business name as a donor on the air, it is a form of advertising. What really mystifies me is the thinking that your LPFM accepts donations, then writes up a nice Underwriting spot to play on the air that advertises the business. Remember what advertising is: promoting the awareness of something. If you mention a person has a black eye, you are advertising that fact by building awareness. So, you are dead set against advertising and turn around and advertise.
Underwriting is Advertising. It is a well defined definition of a form of advertising. The allowed wording is to encourage listeners to patronize the business through building awareness of the business. Thus, advertising happens even if you don't want to think it does.
Advertising benefits the entity that is being advertised. The stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play is called AT&T Stadium. That mere name mention is advertising. Funny thing, playing at AT&T Stadium has never affected the outcome of any game played in the stadium. That's because advertising happens. It is the result of building awareness but independent and unconnected to the product.
Even if you say Joe's Tires is a generous supporter you are saying or advertising that Joe's Tires is a nice enough guy to support the radio station your listeners tune to. And that is a consideration as to where they will buy the next set of tires, especially when it is said enough to become familiar to the listener. And that's not evil. It is a happy result from the benefit your LPFM receives.
If you are so dead set against any advertising, I'd just resolve to only accept donations and simply say you are listener supported (you don't have to acknowledge a donation with Underwriting).
My point is any business that gets any credit over the air or through other means associated with your station is advertising in some form. A commercial is only one form of advertising. And that credit is a benefit to the business. You can't prevent that benefit. So, don't fight it but embrace that it is happening.
And consider this: if you are a community station, is it wrong to also include the business community? Don't you want the services and products provided by businesses? If you don't also support the business community, you can affect the economic health of the area. That means a loss of stores and services, a loss of jobs, a loss of tax dollars and an area that is dying and losing population because people want lower taxes, good schools and convenient shopping as well as nearby jobs. I'm not saying run commercials but recognize healthy businesses are good for you. They are not evil. You actually spend your dollars there and earn your income from one or more of these. And, anyway, if they're healthy, there will be support for your non-profit. Your station is stuck coming up with the dollars to keep going month after month, so why not nourish the giver of those dollars (and that includes the dollars you get from listeners that have jobs at these businesses).
Yes, I'm a dreamer. I'd love to just do radio without worry about the financial end but I realize the financial end is how I am able to do radio so I embrace it and try to create a formula that produces the income without causing the end product to suffer. Unfortunately we are part of the economy and can't get around that. If only those bills stopped coming in!.
WHERE RADIO MISSES THE MARK
Radio in general and especially LPFM stations really miss the mark on generating revenue. I'm not going to blast how you sell your Underwriting, but your general thinking on what you offer the business underwriter or any underwriter for that matter.
Because we run a radio station, we think radio. That's it. I'm just as guilty by making the radio station the focus. My thinking can use some help too.
An industry feature piece in a trade publication talks about leaving money on the table. Pros say the sales and digital departments are separate. In other words, salespeople sell spots and the digital side goes in to sell online. They point out radio stations are selling reach and it's just not over the air spots any longer.
That is the point. The business owner thinks marketing. They don't think radio spots. If you're not thinking about how your listener is influenced by that marketing, you are missing the mark and leaving dollars on the table.
Every radio station needs to think online presence. That's not just a Facebook page to post stuff that might get you a like. I'm talking an actual marketing venue not only for your station but the business underwriter too. And that means knowing how your listener uses the internet and how to engage them with your online presence.
No, that does not mean you bonus a little banner ad on your site. It means you offer a complete package that involves online and on air. It means offering actual data to clients. That means generating leads they can convert to cash.
We have trouble enough with underwriting rules and how many people actually listen to our station. Online we have a record of visits and we can even figure how many see and/or click on an ad or even how many go from your site to your underwriter's website.
Think of radio as gas stations in the 1960s. Gas stations sold gas. They mostly came to you and pumped the gas. Then someone figured if they added snacks like chips and candy bars as well as cold soft drinks, they could better their revenue by understanding the needs of their customer better, but they had to get them out of the car.
In not too many years came convenience stores with early open times and late closing times where you could get an item you might have run out of and need now while the grocery store was closed.
Then, the customer getting out of the car was complete when self service gas became a thing about 10 years later, fueled by the savings of a few cents per gallon if you'd pump it yourself. You had to walk in to pay and the chances were good you'd grab something other than just gas.
Now you are hard pressed to find a place that just sells gas let alone pumps it for you. And yes, I know New Jersey and Oregon have laws that do not permit consumers to pump their gas. But elsewhere, the gas station is not a desired model because the additional services offer so much more.
We need to evolve from the gas station to the convenience store. Our over the air product is only part of what we should offer and that on air presence needs equal footing for the other marketing a station can offer. We need to think convenience, not just pumping radio spots. Just like gas may have brought many to the convenience store in the first place, the sale does not stop at the pump. For many it's what's inside that has enough lure to get you to come in and even weigh heavily on where you fill the tank.
When we talk to potential business underwriters we need to think from their point of view: maximizing what our listeners can bring them over the air, from the website and more. If we aren't we are leaving lots of dollars untouched and actually trying to convince them to buy the most unproven option exclusively. Sure underwriting works and people listen but when wording has to be by the books and the claims we make on listening go unsubstantiated, by eliminating the digital portion are we not making our radio lives as difficult as we can make it?
Would we not find greater value by selling the whole package?
Granted, that online presence has to be something worth visiting and visiting frequently just as our on air product, but that goes without saying. All in all, if you have to pay someone to modify your website constantly, you need to seek out a service where you can simply modify on the fly with ease, just like your over the air product. If you change an on air message, it should be changed on the digital side just as quickly and economically.
THE DEATH OF AM RADIO
I was talking to a new AM radio station owner. He got a sweet deal. Except for the cost of the sale and having to establish an office and studio, he was out around $20,000, maybe $30,000 for everything. He does have rent on the land for the tower.
The station is a 1,000 watt AM with minimal power after sunset. He is the only station in his county of a bit more than 6,000 folks. The county population sees small declines every census. It is agriculture based without any major employers except the school district and government.
His challenge is the number of FM stations that I consider more regional. In other words, they serve a few counties. One does the school district high school sports for his county. In fact, his night coverage almost prevents him from considering school sports.
He has no grand dream of big money, just a decent paycheck. He knows sales and programming. And he has experience running very low budget stations.
In talking with him, he told me he really couldn't be much more than a computer in a closet but that didn't have to mean boring. He has created a network of contacts along with his part-time news director. He has a high school student to run traffic and billing and another fellow to handle the computer technology.
The plan is simple, make the greatest use of statewide agricultural shows, add local ag news. Run local news and frequent weather reports. He announces birthdays and anniversaries, community announcements and even does a swap shop. He jocks a short morning show and the swap shop.
In sales, he sells locally and works agency buys as time allows. He tries to stay up on co-op advertising, making as much use of that as possible. All of that is pretty typical of every station on the dial.
His real exclusive is Local Advertising for Local People. He pushes that. He tells clients they can make 5 times as many impressions right in the area their customer lives and shops for what a spot costs on his FM competitors that serve several counties.
That is his saving grace, affordable, effective local advertising for local people on the only station that only centers on the local area. And it is working nicely.
His station, classic country, is not a wall to wall music and liners station. Each hour is broken at least 4 times for local information, sometimes up to 6 times an hour in prime hours. He carries 2 hours and 30 minutes of agricultural news and information, mostly from agriculture networks, mostly state farm news networks. In mid-morning there is a statewide hour long agriculture talk show and he runs another in mid-afternoon, all on weekdays, plus a mid-Saturday morning hour long agricultural wrap-up done by one network. He carries 5 minutes of network news hourly.
Rounding out the hour is countywide news and announcements on the half hour and complete weather at 15 past and 15 before the hour. He tosses in birthdays and anniversaries after the news on the half hour. He airs many local features. Many are weekly, some as short as a minute and others as long as 10 minutes. His idea is to cover the interests of the county by utilizing a network of people who do these features and deliver them to the station. He is moving toward trying to get as many as he can to be downloaded directly to the station so the person can record them using their computer microphone at home.
On the sales side, he pushes sponsorships of news, weather, farm news and special programs. He doesn't sell a bunch of simple commercials. His thinking is he wants to establish an active list of 'base advertisers' and then add to that as these advertisers have co-op, sales and events for short term spot buys. He thinks this is where lots of stations lose focus. For him, the local information is highly desired and an easy sale if kept affordable. From there you can get the occasional buy as well. Many stations just count on that occasional buy or try to get the advertiser to buy one a day to build a base. He uses the feature packages because the limited number available gives the illusion that demand exceeds availability and advertisers tend to hang on to a sponsorship for fear of losing it for a long period of time.
By the way, his low nighttime wattage means he only stays on after 6 pm on 'bad weather nights'. He signs back on at night power if a bad storm moves in. Weekends he runs 7 am to 5 pm.
So, how's he doing? This past year he did $97,985. His first year was $30,100. Last year's goal was $96,000. This year he is hoping for an extra $24,000 and so far it has been a tough road but the Christmas season will be the deciding factor as he strives to be more local for his town. And he adds, his salary is not much at the moment but he hopes to change that in another 3 years. He still will be underpaid based on how visible he is in the community, making every function he can. As he puts it, he has no competition because the bigger FMs could never do what he does without making bigger population centers mad.
Considering this hard working fellow, is AM truly dying or is it that radio owners are ready to nail another nail in AM's coffin?
BLAMED FOR BAD WEATHER EVENT
Okay, the station wasn't blamed for the storm but not announcing it, sort of.
A severe thunderstorm warning was issued and this station in tornado alley went in severe weather mode meaning quarter hour updates and continuous coverage when imminent. As the severe thunderstorm came rolling in, the on air pair noted it's exact location, read the warnings and even gave estimated times of arrival at certain points. Certainly they were doing it right.
The storm went extra severe. Everyone figured it a tornado but the National Weather Service said it was a downburst of 100 mile per hour winds. The damage was identical to a tornado. There were homes ripped apart, power poles snapped, etc. There was large hail too and a deluge of rain. It was over in minutes.
Days later, a letter to the editor appeared in the local paper. The publisher called the station as a courtesy to respond before the letter to the editor was published. The station did.
The letter complained the writer was listening to the coverage on the radio station but there was no word about the damaging wind. The writer felt the station had been irresponsible by not announcing it was going to occur.
The station responded by saying "Severe storms by their very nature, are unpredictable. Even the professionals predicting the weather can only offer large geographic areas where a tornado or other extreme weather even will occur and many times can offer only a few minutes of notice. More than likely, because the storm is constantly evolving, what might be predicted a mere minute prior, has changed by the time the public can be warned. The recent 'downburst' is a prime example. Even those folks at the National Weather Service did not catch that".
"Listeners need to understand that while the National Weather Service and other sources tell you to take cover, the typical person still feels it will not happen to them. There have been so many times they have been told to take cover but nothing has happened when the storm arrived."
"Radio stations and all media function on dispensing information given to us in a timely fashion. The content of that information comes from reliable and accurate sources. The radio station, namely us, rapidly broadcasted all the information we had at hand from all available sources. We did our job completely and fully. We contend the warnings we received offered ample warning of excessive, damaging winds, hail and heavy rain. We advised to heed the warning via the same wording the National Weather Service provided."
"We contend the blame for the weather event our community suffered is misdirected. If blame must be placed, we feel Mother Nature is the culprit. At the very point of the destruction a rather unique set of weather features allowed the storm to do what it did, all of which every source of information we aired and ourselves had no control over."
"Please take severe storms seriously. If we didn't see the destruction like we did Saturday evening, then we should consider ourselves fortunate. However if we experience Mother Nature's wrath, heeding those warnings as issued, means you have taken reasonable precautions."
"Our hearts go out to those who lost property and more in Saturday evening's storm and we shall do our part to help the community recover. We have always put our town first. We love it here and take pride in serving you and you allowing us to earn a living doing what we do best, serving our area."
LISTENERS DISCUSS PERCEPTIONS OF RADIO
I'm often amazed with radio and how we in radio perceive things versus how the listener does. And many times we are far removed from reality.
An example was from about 1980 when stations began to segue songs in formats that never had. The reasoning was research showed listeners did not like hearing all the chatter from the DJ. As a relatively green radio guy I knew something wasn't right. Researchers didn't define what listeners didn't like. By about 1984 it became clear: they were irritated by the commercials, not the DJ, but by that time we had changed listening habits based on flawed research.
In non-commercial radio, the commercial is perceived as evil inside the station. I guess this is because our only real contact is from listeners that 'get' the difference or should I say, the ones that donate. We can agree that only about 10% at most 'get' non-commercial radio.
When people learn I work in radio, one of the early questions is "How do radio stations make money?" When I say it is by selling commercials the next question is usually "and what else?". The listener perceives that a small percentage of time is devoted to commercials and that their typical station is commercial and music based, selling longs sets of music.
But what about non-commercial radio? The average listener doesn't really get that there are commercial and non-commercial stations. Those that listen to non-commercial radio perceive one thing: they play fewer commercials and sometimes ask listeners to donate. I know you'll counter that I'm wrong, but really, the average listener doesn't get it.
Not just one, but likely hundreds of radio listeners have told me this. They cannot distinguish between commercials and Underwriting. Hard to believe, right? I ask what they like about the non-commercial station and I'm told they have fewer commercials and 'play what they like'. The average listener perceives the non-commercial station as commercial. Only those public stations that don't run Underwriting are perceived as non-commercial. Amazingly the listeners I've met that listen to a station that airs no Underwriting do not seem more compelled to donate.
I always keep asking questions in hopes a listener or two will blast the quality of commercials heard on commercial radio but I can only suppose the average listener is oblivious to this as it never comes up not matter how much I try to get the subject on the front burner. It's as if the lack on long commercial breaks and annoying commercials is not a consideration but it is because it is one of the reasons given for listening to the station if you bother to read between the lines. I asked "If the only station in town playing the stuff you like most had long commercial breaks or annoying commercials would you listen anyway?" The answer was "Yes but I would like the station even more if it had fewer commercials". I asked if a second station playing the same stuff came on playing shorter commercial breaks and no annoying commercials would you switch to that station. The answer was "in a heartbeat".
My auto mechanic, a literal mom and pop where mom made the advertising decisions, loves the Contemporary Christian formatted non-commercial FM in town. She called the station to 'buy commercials'. The person she reached said they didn't sell commercials, never explaining Underwriting. A few minutes after her call to the station they ran a traffic report underwritten by a local chain auto repair outfit. She was furious. In her mind she was denied advertising while they sold commercials to a competitor. When I stopped in she asked me if it was 'legal' for them to deny selling her commercials.
As you might suspect, I explained the difference. Her response was "I like what they play and that they have fewer commercials than the classic hits station her husband really likes. In her mind, they just were not as successful as the classic hits station because they ran fewer commercials.
And there's the rub. Ask a typical radio listener what an Underwriting spot is and what a commercial is. They won't know. They will never get that a non-commercial station is typically below 92 FM on the dial. In the typical radio listener's mind, there is no distinction. Simply put, you're just another option on the radio dial.
The typical listener will comprehend a station that asks for listener donations. Ask them why a station does this. The answer might surprise you. More often than not, the listener feels the format is not a commercial success to the extent of other stations and they need listeners to help out 'because they cannot sell enough commercials'.
I specifically asked if they noticed the non-commercial stations said "Support has been provided by "X" business" on these stations. Most say yes. They get that commercials pay the bills and the reminder is seen as a nice touch, but something they already figured was a fact. Yes, the typical listener gets commercials pay the bills in radio but they really don't think that is the source of income for commercial radio stations which is why they ask how a radio station makes money. In their minds, there have to be more sources of income.
Ironically, another perception of radio people is listeners hate commercials. What they really hate are annoying commercials and bunches of commercials in a row. They have no problem with one or two at a time as long as that doesn't happen too frequently, say, more than 2 to 4 times an hour.
And they like DJs. They just don't want you to talk too much and actually have something to say they can relate to when you crack the microphone. This seems to span across all formats. If they feel like they can identify you distinctly by personality, musical tastes or style, you create an emotional bond.
HELPING OTHER COMMUNITY GROUPS WITH YOUR LPFM
I am so glad to see this happen. The FCC now is allowing non-commercial stations to assist in fundraising for other entities.
I had an issue with the FCC's Rules on this. A fellow broadcaster in a small town wanted to help the local volunteer fire department raise funds for a new ambulance. They had several activities including an auction, BBQ feed and a street dance for the first big push. They asked the local non-comm if they could help. Except for news stories, FCC rules prevented this. They went to the local AM that earned the love and support of the community instead.
The FCC is now allowing the non-comm to help. There is a limit: 1% of airtime. That 1% is an annual maximum.
I advise any station supporting a fundraiser, say for folks who lost their home to a fire and such or any local organization trying to benefit the community to be careful in your choices. You need to be sure the organization you help is an IRS recognized non-profit.
Most of all, you need a good record of each event. You should note precise airtime, cause, funds raised, verification of non-profit status and reason for choosing to offer airtime. A paragraph about how it benefits the educational purpose of the station is suggested. I say this because the FCC might ask questions and secondly, it never hurts to have your T's crossed and I's dotted.
In operating such fundraisers, it might be a nice fundraiser for you too, asking businesses to underwrite segments and then donating some of the proceeds to the charity you are trying to help. I knew a banker who was a pretty good DJ. When he was hired to do an event for a non-profit, he charged his full rate. Then after he paid his actual expenses, he donated the remainder back to the charity that hired him. He said it not only made him look good but it gave him a tax write-off.
One thing I would steer clear of is fundraising for a non-profit at a business location (aka a for profit business). The FCC Rules get sticky here. The FCC has indicated when this happens, the real purpose is for the business to benefit from the remote broadcast under the disguise of fundraising for the non-profit. If the on air talent says to come out and mentions the business name, it might be interpreted as a call to action. Call it being cautious, but it is always a waste of time to have to explain yourself to the FCC knowing if you miss anything, it could cost you. And, if that raises a red flag with the FCC they might watch you more carefully or at least the other stations in town will watch you like a hawk taking advantage of any slip-up.
The real key issue in choosing who to work with is how that organization you assist fits with your mission statement. The reason needs to be a showing of how the assistance from your station furthers your purpose or cause. And remember, a bank opening an account to help a local family going through a tragedy is not a non-profit organization. It is a news story.
To facilitate things, I like to use the following in the mission statement: to support and facilitate any activity that adds to the quality of life in the local area. I use that as an add-on as the purpose of the radio station. I believe you can add to your mission statement at any time.
Read the Report & Order here: http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2017/db0420/FCC-17-41A1.pdf.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE?
I'll make this short, perhaps diving in to a certain aspect on future posts.
I have not always been a good manager. It took trial and error, then just simply getting back to basics. I believe I'm a good manager. That's not ego, but my attempt to manage in a way I'd want to be managed. It doesn't work for everyone, but it does for most people.
I hate the line "It's lonely at the top" as to mean there is a division between you and your employees. I don't buy that. I have a job. That job is to do what my owner wants done. My employees are in the same boat. In other words they are responsible to me just like I am responsible to my owner.
I'm a big believer in trust and expectation. I hire by attitude over experience. If you have the right attitude you'll do great. I can show you the ropes and then give you enough rope to 'own' your part. You have to let your employees 'own' what they do. They will always do their best for what is 'their baby'.
Managing is befriending. These people keep you in your job. Face it, if they don't get it done, your owner wants to know why. It is true I'm as good a boss as my employees make me be. When they do everything right, I'm great.
I believe people 'have your back' if they feel like you are a friend and are in their corner. That means being human. There's none of this keep your personal life at home with me. If life is dealing you a tough road, I want to relieve stress for you instead of pile it own. So, if you know your employees and react to their life at the moment, they know you're trying to help, not pile on more.
Expectation is lovely. I tell my employees to act like they own the place. I want them to think this way. I respect their decisions. When they make a mistake, I tell them beforehand we will simply try to figure a better way but they're not in trouble for doing their best.
It's going the extra mile too. One Christmas a weekend employee decided to stay behind and let his family go home for Christmas. It had been a long time since he had been home, many years. I called him in and said I had his shift covered if he wanted to go home for Christmas. He couldn't believe I would work his shift. Sure I missed Christmas with my family but I got to see them much more than he did. Don't say I'm great for doing this. If I am a good manager it is because I'm caring for my employees as they care for me, simply payback for sacrifices they already made to make me look good to my owner.
I think a good manager lets folks do it their way. My way works for me and only me. Abide by their plan and rules. By doing so I think I get a better product and the employee has pride in what they do because they were able to 'own it'.
Understand what your employee can do and can't do. Understand the relationships between employees. Matching abilities and personalities is essential. Learn their interests and use them to move forward and if they seem to be perfect for a certain task and it doesn't drive them up the wall, have them do it. I had an employee that was a teacher before radio. He loved to teach and was really good at it. He trained everyone.
I do one other thing. I interview people on attitude not resume. Once I decide on someone, I tell the interviewee I want them to meet the staff and talk to them. I say it gives them a chance to ask questions they might not feel comfortable asking me and it lets my employees get to know my choice. Then I ask every employee if I should hire them and more importantly if the person might be a good fit. Specifically, do you like the person and want to work with them. Can they handle it? I do this because if the person isn't liked and believed in by the staff, it will hurt us in the long run. My employees seem to like that.
You might gather I believe a happy workplace is the key to success. I think I have to mold to them not that they have to mold to me. I believe being the boss is not about getting your way but creating a way for everyone to be happy at work and work together well. It's not about rules but rather an ever changing environment that matches the climate of the office.
I get radio is an ego driven business because you are there by the talents you have honed. You have to find that fine line where egos don't swell but talents are respected. That gets tricky sometimes.
And my last point: you are not perfect. It is fine and I think I should admit where I failed or didn't support my employees to my standards. I don't think it makes me less of a boss but one where I can learn from my mistakes. Because I let my employees make mistakes to learn, they let me.
STANDING OUT IN A CROWD OR HOW TO GET A "YES"
Going out to find money for your LPFM is sort of like being a Marine: the few that do the hardest work. It is not that the work is really so difficult, it is that it requires the right mindset.
First, there will be winners and losers. You will lose, sometimes more than you will win but you never know which ones will give you that win. You can do all the right things, play fair and still lose. You just decide each no gets you closer to a yes. You might even have to tell yourself that when you hear a string of 'no' answers and have run out of potential leads. There's always a yes out there. That yes is in some surprising places. There are so many twists and turns in 'selling', you see a maze and think it looks amateur, kindergarten stuff.
Some facts: no matter how bad the economy might be, how much competition there is and no matter what the business tells you, there are dollars out there. You just have to find them. They are being spent somewhere, just not with you.
Business owners want you out of their hair. You are there to make their pocket lighter and they know that. It's not in the budget. We can't right now. I'm not interested. We don't advertise. I'm too busy. All of these are excuses. Really. Anything the business owner can say to make you give up is fine with them. The real sellers will come back. The real sellers won't give up. The true sellers work on creating a relationship.
If you had 100 toys to choose for a child, how would you choose? Do you think visiting with the child to ask them might be a good idea? What if you saw they had certain toys already? Good to know, huh? Maybe if you asked questions and had conversations with the child and learned what they liked and didn't like? Would any of that help you decide on what is the right toy to give? Sure it does. It's the perfect information to make the choice and buy the toy the child will love. Selling a business on your LPFM station is exactly like choosing the perfect toy for that child.
So, the key to sales is getting to know the client, what they like and don't like and bringing them something that makes them want what you offer.
It that doesn't work, your pitch is all wrong. I see that a whole bunch. We get so caught up with the word non-profit we fail to realize doing something the business sees as beneficial to them is okay. If a business benefits from Underwriting that is done the right way (by FCC Rules), it does not change the non-profit's mission, does not make you a commercial station, does not make the dollar rule over programming and so forth. All it does is keep the client giving you money to continue your mission.
I must repeat: donations pass benefit to the recipient. You might spend $100 on something that might make you some more money but you are not going to toss $100 over to that non-profit for them to benefit. You might slip them a $20. Think of it this way, would a listener give you $50 a month? You will likely get a bunch that might offer $5 a month. Why? Because that $5 will not turn into $10 because they turn the benefit over to you. Sure, they can listen but they can do that for free.
On the other hand, if you asked for $100 with the possibility it might benefit the giver, you stand a much better chance of getting it.
LPFM has a limited service area. I think we can agree it is too small. It is perfect for the business in your 60 dbu because customers come from their trade area, within a few miles of the business. LPFM is trade area marketing without spending money to build awareness among people that will never be your customer. You aren't going to that auto repair shop on the opposite end of the county for that oil change but you will visit the place right in your immediate area.
A huge part of advertising is awareness. It has much, much less to do with price and item, sales or claims they are better than competitors. Awareness sells because of convenience. In fact, if awareness was not important, businesses would not have a sign in front of their business saying they are there. Anyway, the business that doesn't need to brag is seen as a leader because they don't have to prove themselves with claims. And mere awareness means the more a person hears of the business, the better the business is among their competitors in the listener's mind. Familiar is a huge selling factor, the difference from seeing a stranger and seeing a friend. Awareness creates trust by being known and becoming a familiar name. Why do you think the Dallas Cowboys play at AT&T Stadium? AT&T gets that the name mention builds awareness and trust.
I want to share an instance in my selling experience. I had an insurance agent on my list. He was just starting out. For an agent starting out, you have minimum sales thresholds to hit to remain a writer for a company. Too few policies and you might not get to write for them. This fellow was going for broke. Then his child had medical problems. Financially he was destroyed. A friend let him have a desk at his place free. By then his family moved in with his wife's parents. He was down to only selling motorcycle insurance for one company.
I knew he couldn't buy from me but I said I'd pass out some business cards and post some at places I called on that let folks do that sort of thing. He handed me a stack. I followed through. Today he has one of the largest agencies in the town. He was a regular advertiser too. I digress. He happened to tell a fellow at a ribbon cutting for a new business how I set out his cards. A few weeks later I stumbled in to the business owned by the fellow he told. I eventually got an order, a small one. That client talked about his advertising when he Dad took him golfing with some of his Dad's friends. When I did a follow-up, this client said to go see one of his Dad's friends. I did. In weeks I had a $2,000 monthly order.
This is proof if you try to help without just trying for the order, it comes back to you. The twists and turns in sales will amaze you. Who would think a $2,000 order would come from handing out a few business cards. Sales is seeing everyone, even those that say no, as having value and trying to befriend them anyway. You never know where trying to help will lead you. In this, know my job is to help. When I get a sale, it is because someone can afford to buy and believes I want to help them by learning what they want and how to give them what they want.
UNDERSTANDING THE NEWSPAPER PITCH
Having a newspaper was like owning a money tree at one point. While it was never easy gathering news and selling ad space, the true newspaper person was in heaven doing it all and even being the only print shop around that created a paper trail for every business for miles around from business cards to stationary, brochures, order forms and any other printed material a business needed.
Not everyone had it that good but many did. Those days are gone. In fact, many newspapers still do some printing even if they don't have the physical plant. A good newspaper might do $3 in print jobs compared to $1 toward the newspaper. And they might farm out everything.
Let's talk about the newspaper. Every retail spot in town seems to have it near the counter. In the ads in the paper they tout 30,000 readers. They really seem like a great deal.
Every October each newspaper that utilizes 2nd class/newspaper rate postage has to file somewhat of a tax return with the post office. The form has to be printed in the publication with that mailing permit. Among the blanks, the owners are listed, frequency of the publication, subscription costs and then a breakdown: how many are sold in the county, out of the county, at newsstands, how many go through other classes of mail, at reduced rates or even free. Two columns offer the annual average and the totals on the date closest to filing. It is this form that tells the story.
Here is what I learned: a newspaper touting 8,000 readers actually prints 2,000 papers. 700 of those go out of the county. 100 are sold at newsstands and another 100 go out free, at reduced rates, or by other class of mail (possibly out of USA subscribers?). So, in reality 1,200 copies were actually circulated in the county. Considering there are 6,000 homes in the county, I gather 20% of the county gets the paper. If you looked at that 8,000 readers, you'd think 50% of the county gets the paper.
When you compare their $8 column inch rate to real in county readers that might visit the advertising local business, that's about 67 cents per hundred per column inch. If that's, say, a 6 column inch ad (2 columns wide and 3 inches tall, a small ad in comparison), that's $4 per hundred. Most full size newspapers are about 126 column inches (21 inches down; 6 columns across meaning at $8 a column inch, a full page ad is $84 per hundred).
Converting to radio, your rate should reflect about how many a message reaches. You say you don't know. I agree. You can guess at it and at worst, take the number of received signals (maybe use Radio Locator to show local stations, not distant) and divide by population in your 60 dbu.
Now what? Let's say you reach 42,000 and there are 20 local stations, that is 2,100 per station on average. If the typical listening is, say, 3 hours a week per station, that's 6,300 hours a week. Let's say that's 900 a day. You'll likely have about 60 folks hearing a spot any given hour during the day and they'll likely hear the spot 3 or 4 times within a week if you only do one spot a day airing at different times.
Before you say that is miserably low, consider just how much of a newspaper the average consumer reads and the time spent on one page. Then consider the number of times the person rereads the same newspaper. The reality is only a small percentage of readers peruse every page. I read somewhere (wish I could recall) 8% of an average newspaper was perused by a reader. Let's just call that 1/12. That means 100 see that $8 a column inch ad out of 1,200 in county readers. And that's a 6 column inch ad so now we're talking $48 to reach 100 local readers. In that respect, if you are getting $3 per Underwriting unit, chances are you are a better deal is 'cost per impression'.
Both of these broadcasters are perfectly right in their decisions. Their choices reflect the business community, competition, sales philosophies and the actual station's image. In both cases, the perfect choice was made. Both stations bill about the same money...give or take $1,000 or so a year.
Station A is a community station with some specialty music blocks, frequent community announcements, weather reports and lots of local vignettes with local voices. While the station is computer driven most hours, it is very much the small town local radio station complete with funeral announcements, farm reports and such. For this station, inclusion is important in their image. They want everyone to have a place at the station. This reflects in how they sell Underwriting. They sell mentions. The minimum package is $7.50 a week or $30 a month. Everybody can afford that, at least every other week. Around 45 businesses buy underwriting.
Station B is a station that sells their format: an oldies leaning lite rock. Their push is in office and in store listening as well as targeting the adult with the greatest discretionary income. Their pitch is most listeners have raised their families and now are investing in themselves...nice home, nice car, vacations, hobbies, luxuries and simply enjoying life. Sure, there's plenty of local information but the presentation is more sophisticated than homegrown. On the sales side, they push that they are afforded the time to build a knowledge of your business and to understand and respond to your specific business needs for a personalized and precision marking tactic unique to you and your business. For the listener, they offer long uninterrupted sets of music that fit their lifestyle and long term listening habits. They point out how they're heard all over town wherever you go. This station has 9 clients. Each client gets an hour of music exclusively sponsored by them during business hours (8 to 5) weekdays. They get 6 weather or community calendar updates a week. The representatives position themselves as marketing specialists. Only the larger businesses are on the station.
AUCTIONS FOR SUPPORT: AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE USUAL
There are LPFMs out there that hate 'selling' Underwriting and some that would rather have no Underwriting in the traditional sense. There are other ways to achieve funding.
Many years ago there was a station that used an employee's idea of doing basically the shopping channel on TV over radio. To get new believers in radio, a new client could pay in merchandise at full retail. The plan really worked out well. All those giveaways increased customer count that could be directly attributed to radio, making them believers in the effectiveness of radio advertising.
The merchandise was then hawked on the station, a dead in the water AM. It developed a reputation as somewhat of the 'garage sale' station. Anybody looking for a deal on stuff they'd use listened and called in to buy. A station in Florida might still be doing this format.
Adapting it to LPFM takes a little modification. First, you must have listeners in enough quantity to sell the inventory. If you can pull that off, it will work.
Say you get a bunch of single topping pizza certificates from Joe's Pizza Spot. You then discount the retail price 30-40% and sell it online using a payment system like PayPal. You promote the idea on the air carefully and frequently.
I really like the Saturday morning online store opening. In other words, you can start buying every Saturday morning, say at 7 am. When a person buys, they do so on PayPal that gives you their email and mailing address. You can glean the email to promote the station and the shopping opportunities further.
Another online option is a free or cheap listing of local garage sales/yard sales. This brings the person searching for a good deal.
Over the air you note you have your shop open every Saturday online at your website. You list 'supporters' and products in promos but do not mention any pricing or discounts. You don't want the FCC after you and you want the listener to be curious enough to go to the website. You note that all the proceeds from the merchandise go to support the station (and keep it commercial free).
The certificates you mail or the buyer picks up, must be stamped with your station. In other words, every certificate acts as proof of radio producing a return for the merchant. Use an unusual color rubber stamp of your station logo to help cut down on fraud. I like the rainbow color stamp pads where the logo might be in three colors other than black and white. Getting a full color copy means scanning it just right or going to Kinko's. In each instance the copy must be just right, a real pain for the would be cheater.
It is a win-win for all concerned. The station gets income. The listener buys for less than retail (especially good for those paycheck to paycheck families) and the merchant gets to buy advertising at far below the going rate, receiving mentions on the air, website 'advertising' through the listing being observed and a provable customer that produces the certificate. And by the businesses selected being geographically bound, you encourage local shopping habits that helps everyone (healthier economy, more tax dollars, more convenience, more local jobs, etc.).
For the station that hates sales, it is a nice idea. It is much easier to get product to sell on the website than to get that check for $X written out for a certain number of Underwriting units. Sure you might guarantee online presence and an average number of mentions weekly, but the merchant quickly figures they are getting this for 'their cost', not their retail but are getting full retail in value. They quickly realize customer sampling is the first step to a long term customer. It is everything a business hopes for and it cost them only pennies on the dollar in some cases. There's no 'it's not in the budget right now' or 'see me when my annual contract ends in June'. In many cases it's an immediate yes or check back with me in a few days because I want to think about this at worst.
You will never become a local 'Amazon' doing this, but with less time and effort, you should be able to get ample revenue to fulfill your mission statement in a way you always hoped. And that's just the start. With some additional thinking you can monetize the station further with this process.
Oh yes, if it doesn't sell out in hours, it remains available all week and sticks around until sold. You only add new product for it's Saturday debut. If it sells slowly, you discount it further to move it out. It's like retail. It stays in inventory because the customer might not need the product right now but will in the future. Like that furniture store that puts that couch on display, they know it might not sell in minutes but that at some point someone will walk in and say that couch is perfect for them.
UPDATE: "Bill, how about some examples of types of businesses."
Here are some: 1) Restaurants are best. 2) Automotive (oil changes, etc.). 3) Tax Service (it's April after all). Video/Game rental. 4) Plant, seeds, garden supply. 5) Massage. 6) Hair Cut. 7) Pet Grooming. 8) Box Store/Chain Store Gift Certificates. 9) Food Store. 10) Wine Tasting. 11) Phone/Airtime. 12) Pest Control. 13) AC/Heat Service Call (Plumbers too). 14) Financial Advice. 15) Newspaper Subscription. 16) Dish/Cable TV, Internet. 17) Drug Store/Prescription Discount. 18) Recreation (golf, bowling, fishing, amusements, etc). 19) Lawn Mowing/Landscaping. 20) Self Storage Unit.
Obviously there are many more. Any business that benefits from customer sampling with the least overall cost to the merchant and especially those businesses where the customer that samples will likely become a regular customer. Think beyond typical advertisers of radio but think of what a family might use or need at some point, especially on a regular basis. Why not a neighborhood emergency clinic, for example, with a free basic visit, say for a sick child or common injury.
Remember, the greater the value at retail, the more dollars you get from the sale. If the value is $75 and you offer it at $50, you have to sell fewer items than the $8 Sunday Buffet at the local cafe you offer at $5. Think of your life, needs and items you use, for examples of businesses to target.
LPFM IN THE SMALLEST OF TOWNS
It can easily be said the smaller the town, the more different the approach for Underwriting. Recently, due to a certain lack of stations who will share information, I took to non-profit newspapers (really more like newsletters). In so many respects, these publications mirror the function of the small town radio station. Before you say I'm crazy, please allow me to explain.
I needn't tell you many small towns were bigger places with more businesses in the past. Many survive quite well as a trimmed down replica of mostly pre-World War II days before highways and the automobile changed the small town. Many lost the only commercial media enterprise, the weekly paper, as towns shrank in population, businesses closed, postage and printing costs increased and the big box store threatened to send them off for cremation, going down in flames. The loss of that weekly was obvious. These towns were hurting. Volunteers saw this and ran to the town's rescue.
For the sake of my study I looked at towns of under 2,000 and mostly 1,000 or less in population.
It really didn't seem to matter much if a group of volunteers, a non-profit, the city or an enterprising individual created the town's only media, the style was the same in getting funding.
First, funding is expected and there is an understated obligation for any for profit and non-profit to pitch in to maintain the health of the publication.
The manner that the cash flowed in to the paper came in various ways. For some it was the sale of advertising. For others it was a membership usually reciprocated by a listing of supporting businesses and organizations in each edition. In the towns over 1,000, advertising was much more traditional but in towns under 1,000, the attitude was notably different. In smaller towns monthly or annual 'dues' were more common. For example, give the paper $100 a year and get up to X column inches a year at no additional charge in addition to a roll call of businesses that support the paper.
Once you got below 500 in population advertising became free with greater frequency. There was less emphasis on a minimal amount per month or year. The paper would explain financials and wait for the business community to step up and provide the funds in some way. Perhaps this has more to do with the thinking that in a town of under 500, free ads helps the already hurting local business community.
In smaller towns, especially under 1,000 in population, it is more common than not that another entity takes on the cost of printing. In most cases, the paper is provided by the publisher but the toner ink and use of the printer is donated. For example, the school district main office is where one paper is run off on a copier. In another instance the city and yet another, the library.
Pricing is minimal for out of town subscribers in many cases, sometimes as low as $5 for a dozen monthly issues sent by first class mail each month. In some towns, the mailed copies are more expensive, paying for the local distribution which was always free. Donations are always expected of the local reader and a donation bowl is not uncommon. Some give, some don't.
In most scenarios, the weekly or even monthly was distributed around town versus mailed and free for the reader. Advertising always supported the paper. In cases of a city doing the publishing, the cost is absorbed by the city. In some cases it is free at businesses but where the city owns some form of utility, such as water, it is mailed with the bill to be a 'no additional cost' option for distribution.
Looking at numbers: a town of just over 300 prints 180 copies of the 32 page monthly for about $250 in a bigger town at a postal store (the sort of place you can rent a mailbox or send parcels). They sell pages of ads: 1 page for $20. They easily cover costs of the paper available at businesses in town. If you live out of town, find somebody to mail you a copy each month. Like this example, the page is 8.5 by 11 white 20 pound paper.
My conclusion is that the smaller the town, support by donation prevails over any 'purchased' marketing. In a town of over 300, you can submit a full page ad with your specials and it is printed free. But you are on the hook to be generous when it comes to the needs of the paper. It is more about doing favors to help each other.
The ads are more about announcing inventory than selling. For example, one I saw was a used car dealer that had 4 new vehicles on his lot, listed by make, model and year. No pricing, just that they were new inventory. The local grocery store talked of going to a new distributor and how the variety of goods available had increased. In short, it was almost economic news versus advertising. In other ads it was changes in operating hours and such, more informational than pure advertising.
In many respects, in the Utopian side of my mind, it's a great way to run your station in a very small place. There are a few that do so and make it just fine.
IMPORTANT: One factor that is if the publication or LPFM in a small community is the only local source of news and information, the dynamic really changes and many are willing to support any station or publication so long as the needs are made known..
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS SPONSORSHIP
It has been a few years since I brought this up. It's a great idea. Many in commercial radio and non-commercial radio have turned this idea in to revenue.
Government agencies on state and federal levels, professional associations and other groups have created Public Service Announcement scripts anyone can use. Sometimes they might be a PDF you can download. There is such a long list I could never touch on more than a few of the subjects. The National Weather Service has great scripts on severe weather, lightning and so forth. Spring is here, so that might be a good time to hop on these.
There's automotive related spots, ins and outs of real estate deals, investment and tax advice, home improvement, gardening and so forth. It might be care for your pet and as many more topics as your imagination can think of. In other words, any business out there likely has an organization or some other national or state entity that has PSA scripts that are designed to educate and inform. You will need to adjust the copy a bit as most suggest you see a local member to learn more.
Let's just say, the state highway and transportation department has PSAs about proper tire pressure and why it is important as well as PSAs about how to determine if your tires are dangerously worn. A local tire shop could underwrite the announcement by simply offering the business name, address, phone and maybe their website at the end, noting they funded the message. As the message is a legitimate public service announcement that is simply tagged with a sponsor at the end, it meets Underwriting Rules. In fact, several mechanics and tire shops could underwrite a series of PSAs.
One of my favorites is getting hospital and emergency clinic dollars with health related PSAs. For example, about immunizations, allergic reactions and many other topics including elder care. It could even use a calendar so that when it's the month for cancer awareness you're featuring that topic.
The idea for the PSA underwriting jives with public radio thinking by imparting knowledge (educational purpose) without directly attaching the business to the content. You see, the PSA text comes from a government agency or a professional organization typically with a purpose to educate. Since the text is from a third party, it is ideal for underwriting. The result is the business is seen as being helpful, not just trying to grab a dollar.
The result for the business is the benefit they get. By sponsoring they are thought of as having the knowledge other competitors have not demonstrated they have. In the listener's mind, the educational knowledge makes them superior to competitors. For example, the mechanic that gets on the radio and answers questions about car problems gets so many customers because they shared knowledge, not because they advertised or tried to indicate they were 'better' or offered a lower price or other incentive. In fact, it is a great position for a business: building a reputation of trying to help and impart knowledge rather than the $9.99 oil change.
Consider this in lieu of or in addition to your atypical underwriting. I think it will be not only successful but appreciated by listeners. Best of all, it opens you up to a line of business entities that normally are not big users of radio.
My favorite was the campaign where state produced PSA spots about litter were underwritten by local businesses urging everyone to keep their town clean. You are digging deep to create that sort of campaign idea, sort of making lemonade from lemons!.
I DO NOT HAVE A CLUE WHY THIS HAPPENS.
This particular situation concerns a small town newspaper but I have seen this happen in radio, both in commercial and non-commercial radio. I haven't a clue why. Can you help me learn why this happens in rare instances.
A publisher of a small town paper and I were talking. I like talking to small town publishers because they do community radio in print when they do it right. And I believe he does a great job on all fronts.
His coverage in his 8 page weekly is amazing. There's all the stories of what is going on, no political slant and no controversy. There's social columns (who visited who...a real important element in the small town), birthdays and anniversaries and other features. The biggest telltale sign is how big your subscriber list is and he has that down pat. 2/3rds of local households subscribe. That's incredibly good. 40% is really good, in fact.
He has published the 110 year old paper for about 22 years and he is accepted and respected in his town as fair and above reproach. In other words, he has the right reputation for success.
He knows how to sell, has a compelling case for buying advertising and many options for the reasons a business buys. He offers attractive discounts for long term advertising (13 weeks or more). His 'territory' is not only his town, but two nearby towns just as large as his but don't have a local paper. He sells in the county seat. He has a rule: if a certain type of business in his town, say an insurance agency, advertises, he does not seek other insurance agencies in the two nearby towns or the county seat. His advertising base is some 120 businesses of various size. Only one is a national chain (one town has a Dollar General). The idea of not selling out of town competitors is frequently a perk offered by small town media "in order to support shopping locally".
His ad rates are reasonable, about average. He has options popular in small towns such as business sponsorship of the Church Directory, Community Calendar and High School Sports.
Lastly, his community is a farm town. It is prosperous as far as farm towns go. The population is stable, growing a bit each census and the business community lets the average resident get the vast majority of what they need right in town. The town has a strong identity and the people tend to work together well. There are ample local jobs.
This sounds like a place where media would flourish, right? Why is it the publisher can't manage to get more than about 10 advertisers spending an average of $15.10 a week? The business card ad is $12 a week. A sponsorship is $7.50. That's $1.10 for every $1,000 in retail sales but that is pushing it. Half of the advertising comes from the two nearby towns, so we are really talking about 35 cents income for every $1,000 in retail sales and roughly 8% of local businesses advertising in the only local media option available. I've checked all other media in the county and his advertisers generally do not advertise anywhere else.
Here's what I don't understand: the publisher has the readers, has a good product and knows how to sell. If you look at other communities and how well media does in these places, considering heavy readership, good product, good sales effort and average pricing, they average 7 times more in ad revenue.
My question is why this happens? I have seen it in radio and print. It is very rare, maybe 1% or less. They must be doing something wrong but I haven't a clue. Can anyone shed some light on this?
A GOOD POLICY FOR LPFM STATIONS
Don't get bullied and don't go looking for a fight. Why? It's all about time and resources. If you are running a LPFM you realize there are too few resources and too little time.
You might be bullied. If so, look for an easy solution that takes the least time and effort. Simply put, it will give you more time to attend to your LPFM.
I do not get the LPFM that doesn't choose to resolve things with the minimal effort. I know a couple that keep trying to escalate things or press FCC rules, make threats and such. I have to ask how much time are you devoting to this and why are you not trying to find a way to devote the most time and effort to your station.
I'm not talking 'roll over and take undeserved punches', but simply trying to make peace in the easiest way you can. A few LPFMs seem dead set on winning even if it costs them their station.
A fellow LPFM operator and I were talking about this and his remark was blunt: you can't fix stupid. He's right.
And I will tell you a LPFM station makes friends and enemies no matter what you do. It is how much attention the negative gets that matters. In this case, less is better. When a full power station files on that Underwriting spot or whatever, it is much better to try to be their friend rather than their enemy. In short, they have deeper pockets than you and befriending means you can actually do radio work versus playing attorney.
CONTROVERSY: THE BIG DIVIDER
I'm inspired by a post about if a station should air an announcement promoting a boycott of a business. It pulled up lots of memories as I bristled at the idea.
I was working in a town of 30,000. I was employed by the only radio station combo in town. The AM was Spanish language and the FM was English. We were the only local radio stations with just a weekly paper to compete with. My boss had a policy of only positive news stories hitting the airwaves. I was appalled by the idea. How dare he not use the airwaves to help right the wrongs and make the place a better one.
I still feel radio and all media is charged with making their community a better place in any way it can. It is, in my book, a moral responsibility. But I temper my actions by a line I have heard all my life: You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar. There are many variations of that phrase that says be nice versus being mean.
It clearly applies in radio. The anatomy of good is fueled by more good. If good and bad occupy a box, the more good you can put in the box, the less space you have for bad. Good can trump bad only when there is enough good to wage and win the battle.
Should a station consider this? My response was run away and run away as fast as you can. I might not run as fast if it was a 100,000 watt FM reaching one million folks but you're talking an LPFM with maybe 1% the number of people or less. Such an announcement forces listeners to take sides. You already have few potential listeners compared to the full power station, so dividing the audience is not a smart decision.
It is not just an us and them situation. If you saw a group of folks get in a fight and a couple of friends were involved, you are more likely to side with your friends but steer clear of the fight. The reasoning is you might get hurt and there might be even more serious consequences if you get involved. You can bet those watching would prefer to steer clear of both parties to keep yourself from being identified as a supporter for either side. An opposing member might meet you in a dark alley at some point.
So, taking sides, creating controversy, divides your audience and makes many more steer clear of you at all costs. In other words, the number you offend is less substantial than the number you manage to convince they should keep you at arm's length or maybe the length of a ten foot pole. It is truly a numbers game.
Instead what causes can you champion that spread a positive or good impact? By looking for what is positive and highlighting that, you make sure those doing good in your area get a little boost and those trying to divide have less options to fuel their agenda. You can call it censorship in a way. The truth is your LPFM is a dictatorship and you set the rules. It doesn't matter if you are community access or not, there are rules the volunteer must uphold to earn the right to use your station.
Let's make up a scenario. Let's say the business they want to boycott is a community bully that has managed to persuade the powers that be to take a favored community asset from the people so they can make more money. Let's say the company treats their employees poorly, charges high prices and never gives back to the community. In other words, the town would be better off without them. Sounds like a good idea to jump on board. It is not.
To announce a boycott is no different that pointing a loaded gun at your temple. There might not be a bullet in the chamber this time but how about the next time? And if you allow it once, you can bet there will be others at some point expecting you to do this again.
The worst part is those on the sidelines will judge your station as one to steer clear of. The business community will wonder if you'll turn on them They see your station as, say the getaway driver to a crime of robbing a business of their customers. The number of supporters that are listeners will fall off. Who wants to give to a station that enables such negativity? That grant writer will have trouble. How many entities will want to associate with a non-profit that permits this?
But you say, report both sides, making it a news story. Well, you can, but remember the listener tunes in and out of your station at all times. How many might miss that actuality that was positive but hear the one in support of the boycott? If that happens, might that listener think you support the boycott? You say, but I need to report the news fairly and that number would be very small. You are correct. But you need to consider this business adage: If you do something right, they might tell a friend. If you do something wrong they'll tell 100. My point is it only takes a few to build a wildfire that burns everything down to the parched earth. I would look at even reporting this as a news story as validating it. I would prefer everything my LPFM station does to be positive and uplifting for the community even if there is a darn good reason for the negativity. It really is more of the honey versus vinegar thing. It is a form of censorship, but an LPFM is a dictator that sets its own rules, something you have a responsibility to do in operating according to non-profit and FCC rules.
Choose your battles carefully. It is amazing how things can go bad so quickly. It might seem I'm making a big deal out of this but I've seen it happen. I announced a Tornado Watch on the air and got a call from an irate listener who accused me of scaring her children and lying on the air. Truly unfounded, the word spread around town in a heartbeat and for weeks I got calls. In another instance on a public affairs show a caller said her road was full of potholes and the city had been notified many times but nothing happened. We instantly became the station that hated the town. We lost advertisers and letters to the editor appeared in the weekly paper suggesting if we didn't like our town we should get out of town. What seems like no big deal can be because the listener has 'selective memory'. You know that exists. My ex-wife thought I suffered from it.
EVERYTHING IS FREE, NO STRINGS ATTACHED
I've written before about WBSC in Bamberg, South Carolina but I think it is worth another mention. I truly love the concept but I realize it cannot work everywhere. You have to have a long and established presence in the community and it truly has to be a community with a sense of volunteerism and strong identity, the sort of town that rolls up their collected sleeves and gets stuff done without waiting on somebody else to do it.
A model for such a station is based on working for the continued success of local groups and non-profit organizations as well as the local business community and the local government. The trick is you offer the help for free, no strings attached. If a business wants to underwrite or a group wants some PSAs, you never ask for a dime, you just do it. The concept is if you work to help them, they'll make sure you have what you need.
Part of the issue is communicating this need the station has. It can be done through, say, weekly station email updates or even over the air. In fact, one station says simply: our financial need this month is $X as of today,$X has come in. Then you list the amount needed still for the month. And you mention how a gift might be made.
This philosophy is the opposite of most stations. For the typical station there is a focus on building audience and selling that audience to fund the station.
The thinking is by involving the greater community you gain an audience that responds to the typical emotion of showing favor and giving back to those that helped them. You must believe most people are good to have the faith it will work, but the success of WBSC proves this thinking is not flawed.
I want to stress that you must be established in the community and this philosophy has to jive with your mission statement. I'd say it will work much better in a smaller community or more rural area than an urban sprawl.
Having experienced what I call instinct in sales, I'd say you must not expect a return. For example, in sales, I noticed you never got the sale when you were hungry for it but it always came when you were in a position to take it or leave it. In this respect, I believe if you are truly set on serving and helping, the cash will be there and ample enough to pay the bills and then some. It is when you expect help that it might not be forthcoming.
With that said, I must also state you must provide a service the community wants to stick around. That means not just knowing and working for the success of those in the service area but also that the product you offer on air is desired by the community at large. If programming doesn't do this, it might not work.
CLARITY IN UNDERWRITING
I take a look at a bunch of LPFM online sites. I look at Underwriting pitches. Most are quite poor in my book, assuming the thrill the board has for the station somehow is conveyed to the potential business owner, yet never explained. Few explain the station well and offer compelling reasons to be a part. There's many that are asking for donations that say "We're bringing community radio to you so jump on board by contributing to this exciting venture". Then they wonder why there's no excitement and the donate button is not clicked. Simply put, you assumed everyone knew the story and never gave any reason to be excited or even want to be involved.
The most troublesome is a lack of clarity. For example, one website offered airtime. It was simple: increments 0:28, 0:58... all the way to 4:58. Rate per minute 46 cents if daily, 92.1 cents if weekly and $1.80 if monthly, followed by the word Meetings. I really have to guess here but I suppose 0:28 means 28 minutes. So, why not be clear. Why not clearly say 28 minutes, assuming my guess is correct? The lack of detail seems confusing.
The same site offers Underwriting: 10-$9.21; 20-$18.41, etc. Is this per spot? Why is it not defined? There were typos as well (and I personally make plenty of typos but I'm sure my marketing pieces are perfect because they're my first impression). And the most important part is the potential business underwriter needs a clear understanding of what they are getting, enough to get them to bite. If you have to interpret what it says, you lack clarity.
A concept that truly intrigues me is a station offering shout outs to sponsors. I love the idea of shout outs for sponsors. While we know what a shout out is, I need to understand what an underwriting shout out is. If I was to bite, is it one shout out? Is it 1,000? I'm sorry, but the lack of detail makes me not want to inquire to get details. Their list of sponsors seems to be simply their board members and that is their hint more clarity is needed.
Maybe the best bet is get somebody who knows nothing about your station read over your pitch and ask them what they believe they are getting for the dollars as well as what questions they have. When you're in the pool it is hard to describe. There's stuff you know that you might not convey.
I want you to consider something: if you simply make the potential underwriter curious, will they contact you? Answer: probably not. If you get them sold by telling your whole story, they will get in touch.
CHALLENGES OF CLASSICAL RADIO
For years I have tried to get a handle on the Classical format. I have learned a few things but I need to dig so much deeper. Let me share some of what I know.
Classical radio listeners are aging rapidly. Most are over 50 years of age. These are the old school, shell out the cash to keep it going listeners. They are a loyal bunch. They usually have extensive classical music libraries and count on their radio station to help them explore further their love of classical music. No other format has as many critics nor as many doing their reading of the same work. The old school listener expects a whole bunch from the station.
You have to play the new recordings so listeners can compare to the other versions. You need to educate, share trivia and such. If you play a baroque selection, it should be performed on instruments dating back to the time or replicas true to the time. The old school listener wants authentic renditions, just as if they sat in the concert hall when the work premiered. And musicians taking liberties is like walking a mine field. Too little and you're trash. Too much and you're trash. Literally, like acting, if you have somehow channeled the mind of the composer as judged by the listener's knowledge of the composer, you got it right. The orchestras need to be musically mature and precision is everything. The venue has to have perfect acoustics. The conductor must breathe life in to the work...too little and they're going through the motions; too much and you are out of touch with the composer. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation so finding a comfortable seat along that barbed wire fence, leaning to neither side is the way to do it.
The jock had better not be too informal yet has to be personable. Think of them as a tour guide to classical music and you have a nice middle ground.
Flustered classical stations tried the 'cool' approach trying to interest younger demographics in the format but the old school hated it. It sounded like a wide-eyed child discovering something you knew all along for the first time. While these approaches got the numbers, they did not get the support.
I see classical radio as made of two sets of listeners: the serious listener and the casual listener that buys the budget CDs of lousy orchestras doing the same old overplayed pieces never in the order of the 'whole' composition.
Here's the BIG problem. Younger audiences are not opposed to classical music. Many find it a nice format when 'in the mood'. They get they need to grow in to the format to appreciate the music but there's no clear easy path.
The younger listener's beef is the length of most works. And secondly, the tempo of most works. It is true symphonies and many other works had various tempo movements. In today's world of radio listening that's like coming out of Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd and going in to You've Got A Friend by James Taylor or going from Madonna to Ozzy. Classical radio as presented has too many musical mood swings to keep the younger listener.
The younger demographic doesn't care to go from the landscape musical piece of a rural sunrise to a severe thunderstorm and classical long form works will jump from Largo to Presto in two successive movements. The old school likes the whole work. The younger listener doesn't want their cage rattled by tempo change from lush strings to stinging brass and kettle drums. So what do you do? Many stations center on single movement works more than full length symphonies that might eat up an hour of airtime.
And for the younger demographic, a 30 minute suite of solo piano or quartet or harpsichord or harp is too much. A few minutes at most and it had better mix well with what came before and comes after.
Most old school listeners are fine with shorter works in morning and afternoon drive. It fits the lifestyle pretty well. You don't want a 50 minute symphony in your 20 minute commute.
The other trend is all music. Drop the news. Only do weather in the morning. Forget traffic reports. Even forget financial reports. Go heavy on announcing arts related happenings because classical listeners love seeing classical music performed, more so than any other format. Keep breaks short and emphasize the music. The classical listener does not look to their station for news and traffic, even weather, but they count on the local arts community to have a place to say what is happening. Even an interview program each week works well.
It seems the mix needs to be a combination of familiar and discovery. No discovery and you're not doing your job. And trends seem to say special programs dedicated to an instrument or certain form of classical music are waning in popularity. Opera seems to be the exception. Operas are an either/or thing. Not all classical music listeners like opera. In short fully orchestrated works do best as a base. Single instrument, vocal and other styles like baroque seem to do best as the seasoning versus the mainstay.
In short, the survival of classical music might mean alienating the old school to become more tempo driven sets of movements to grab and keep younger demographics. In that respect, most well known to the old school listener works are pure discovery for the younger demographic and talking about the composition works for all the listeners.
It will be a big struggle. Lowering the demographics is creating from square one. The aging old school is the money and backing and the two don't mix. It's like steak and ice cream, great on their own but awful mixed together. So, that path to growing classical radio is a tough road untraveled. The fact is somebody has to forge that path at some point.
Classical has a stereotype that will keep it going. Wealth and education are desirable stereotypes. You sure don't get slammed for liking classical music and in fact, it is sort of an admirable quality as if it makes you seem you are successful or on that path to success. This is true for the average Joe and the potential business underwriter or advertiser.
WDST TRIES LISTENER SUPPORT
Radio Woodstock, WDST, has always been the station from out of left field that did what the leading radio minds felt had little chance of success. But it did in spite of what the seasoned pros have said. In fact, over the decades they have developed a very loyal and substantial audience.
Reading up on WDST, they have about 45,000 weekly unique listeners that average about 55 minutes a day with their favorite station. Comparing to similar formatted stations with a listener spending about 2.5 hours a week with the station, WDST listeners spend about 6.5 hours with WDST or approximately 50% of all the time an average person listens to radio weekly. These guys are not just successful but incredibly successful.
WDST is a commercial station. Their AAA format has lost favor with many potential advertisers, especially those advertisers that use advertising agencies who pay close attention to trends, studies and ratings to justify their decisions. You see 'consensus' among AAA listeners is becoming much more difficult to achieve. You might say it is not a radio problem but an artist problem because the current acts lack the mass appeal among AAA listeners. The advertising agencies know this. What many don't understand is the advertising agency pretty much sets the rate per commercial with their cost per thousand for a certain market. And they go for reaching the most people in the target audience meaning they buy the top stations and are usually out of money by the time they get to the more specialized formats. Here's how that works. If you charge $25 a sixty second unit but the ad agency only pays $20, then you work in additional value to meet their cost per thousand or better yet, go a little below that rate to assure the buy. Granted, if you're the leader, they pay your rate and all the others have to make up the cost per thousand overrun the top dog caused.
Radio stations don't change because somebody thought over morning coffee a change would be nice. Stations change because they met a brick wall and want a workaround. Maybe WDST saw the brick wall on the horizon.
While they say they will still sell commercials, they're asking listeners to pony up the money. 300 did in the first five days to the tune of $100.10 a year. WDST is at 100.1 FM. That's a nice $30,000 start. Listener support is tough. The product has to have a loyal listener base that loves their station. The audience size and time spent listening is so impressive anybody in radio would give an array of body parts, not just their right arm just to be there. So if WDST plays their cards right, this will be huge for them.
Given the national standard of 1 in 10 public radio listeners will pay to listen, the key is how much they will pay and what you give them to keep them paying.
WDST thinks they have that. Members will be able to get 'insider' deals and info for the price. This is certainly the right route to go. In fact they envision two fundraisers a year.
I'd like to suggest WDST consider a different approach. I love the $100.10 a year but I really prefer the $10 a month model on an monthly recurring draft. $10 is no big deal for the listener, a much lower hurdle than the $100.10 at once. Most people see the $10 a month that pops up on their credit card or bank statement as just a monthly living expense if it even becomes a blip on their radar.
The station can send e-letters with insider info and even sell ad space to merchants as long as the merchant is riding the coat tails of the content. Maybe that's a special coupon or special only for WDST listeners (an unadvertised sale, if you will). An e-letter creates an emotional bond with listeners that goes beyond mere radio listeners. You are part of a special club once this happens.
As always, the biggest issue with Public Radio has always been getting enough listeners, then making them passionate about their station and finally getting in their pocket to pay for it. Wise minds in Public Radio urge you to wait at least two years become you try to get listeners to pay for what you're doing and it will take a few more years before you can optimize that to the point you're at the level mentioned above. WDST has been what it is for decades.
Few commercial stations have opted for this approach, so there are few models to follow. What makes this so interesting to me is it is a logical approach for a format that is not the preferred choice of advertisers or for the overly crowded radio dial where a solid format and loyal listeners just aren't enough to make the numbers desired. I think this hybrid will become much more commonplace in coming years.
The biggest takeaway, it seems, is listeners will still pay even if the station has some commercials. They key word is 'some'. Nobody really knows that magic number but I do recall this selling point with satellite radio back when XM and Sirius were two separate companies: "And on the music channels there are never more than 8 commercials an hour. Some radio stations play 8 commercials at a time!". That was a selling point to 'sell' a monthly fee for the 'product'. Personally, I think 8 is too many.
One of the early commercial to public radio models was KING FM in Seattle, successfully moving to that business model before the self-imposed deadline. KING enjoyed decades of established loyal listeners who realized the declining advertising revenue dictated the move, seemingly much like WDST. In both instances, the stations are long established with a very loyal listening base.
CLASSICAL RADIO IN SMALL MARKET GETS CREATIVE
Actually Classical Radio is doing a little better than it once was although it has really lost audience share in the past few decades. Some stations do quite well with a more familiar format and others have a smaller loyal audience by playing some rarely heard compositions.
As a side note: research is showing the younger end of the classical music listener wants shorter works but this is saying much more. The typical multi-movement work has slow, fast and medium tempo movements. Simply put, the younger demographic doesn't care for the big tempo changes.
The small market classical station I was talking to is doing some fun stuff! While the Metropolitan Opera is a staple for classical stations, when you can't clear it, you need a competitive feature. This station does Matinee at the Ballet, playing a complete ballet at 12:30 Saturday afternoon.
Special Programming is a big deal and this classical station offers appointment binge listening. Here's what I mean:
St. Patrick's Day, the station plays The Petrie Collection of Ancient Music of Ireland: the 1885 edition of 147 Airs and the 1882 edition of 40 Airs and The Complete Works of Turlough O'Carolan, a total of 214 works.
Easter Sunday, starting at 7 am, the station airs all the Psalms, 1-150 in order, the Complete St. Paul's Cathedral Psalter, and even with minimal breaks, it's a 14 hour special.
These creative programming ideas offer special sponsorship opportunities and create buzz for the station. In addition the 'binge appointment listening' is something that seems to work.
WVVF-LP STUCK FOR $2,000 BY FCC
As a somewhat 'negotiated' deal, the FCC nabbed the station for airing commercials. A complaint was filed by a full power broadcaster. I suspect a pure non-monetary admonishment would have been the case. I'm thinking the FCC thought the full power broadcaster would continue to file complaints to the FCC had a monetary admonishment had not been rendered. I know this does sound like justice, but in many ways it might be a low price to settle things. The FCC does not have unlimited dollars and staff, the LPFM does not have unlimited dollars and staff. And if the full power station doesn't cut it out, they might find themselves shelling out some bucks to the FCC simply by the manner this issue with WVVF-LP was settled.
Did the Underwriting cross the line? That is questionable in my book. I did not see anything that pushed things too far but I admit they were standing on the proverbial line in the sand. The snake bit this time.
While WVVF-LP will likely play it safe from this point forward, the full power broadcaster knows they managed to leave a mark, injuring WVVF-LP somewhat.
So, what is the takeaway? I regularly stress short Underwriting Acknowledgements. I push taking anything questionable and moving it to the website. If we think of the on air copy as a pointer to the online presence, all the fluff that can get you in trouble is no longer needed. And when the client wants to include a bunch of things, make several announcements that rotate. In commercial radio you're constantly reminded of information overkill, that a commercial with one or two items works but one with a bunch of items becomes a blur to the listener.
In short, the shorter Underwriting spot has the least chance of crossing the line in the sand. 10 to 15 seconds and a website address or the listing on your website for the client should suffice. Literally the further you stay away from the proverbial line in the sand, the more 'off the radar' you become.
It is easy to see the mentality here. The full power station was coming across clients that they were calling on that knew of WVVF-LP and might have been considering allocating some dollars to the LPFM. Full power broadcasters have the mentality of a grocery store owner I knew: if they take one customer, that's one too many. From their shoes, they invested their lives and mortgaged their lives to gain entry to radio ownership. The numbers they have to meet each month scare the typical business owner to the point of running away at breakneck speed. Then this little LPFM comes along with an investment of about the price of their personal car and starts winning the favor of a few of your clients. The scenario makes them react as a cornered animal not to mention the average person out there that sees themselves as the Barney Fife self-appointed FCC Field Examiner who turns in anything they see as questionable.
Regardless of the situation, the real loss is the time and possibly money the LPFM must dedicate to win those decisions. Anyone dragged in to court for not doing anything wrong fully understands what such a disruption causes. I think such a person would agree with me that playing it safe, if not bordering on too safe, is the best scenario. If you love the challenge, be a challenger, not a radio station operator because both take more hours in a day than is available.
I want to point out that the playing field is not equal. In markets filled with stations, a challenge is likely. In small markets where there is just enough revenue for a full power station to survive, you might be perceived as a threat as well. If you are the lone local station or only go after the smaller business that cannot afford the full power station, you might be able to stand on that line in the sand and remain unchallenged. If a challenge occurs, it's only because you are seen as a threat to the full power station, a terrible way to earn a compliment, but a compliment nonetheless. If you are perceived as insignificant or a joke, it is an insult but a rather nice place to be because it is smooth sailing.
By the way, the full power broadcaster tried to nab WVVF as coming across as having value just as a commercial station via their media kit. The FCC ignored this. They could care less if you openly say you are a non-profit or state you only sell Underwriting. They don't and won't regulate that. The way you present yourself is your business and the FCC won't go there.
O. K. WALTERS HAS IT PERFECTLY RIGHT.
I understand where Bill is coming from but there are two sides to not calling it something other than advertising. Most have advertised before and have a preconceived notion as to what to include. You have decided to not explain the rules as Bill has suggested so we don't confuse the client by offering something they have never heard of . They like the pitch so far but then comes the customer input. "We need to be sure we say we are the best restaurant in the county and we have a fish fry for $9.99 on Friday night. And don't forget that kids eat free on Tuesdays." Now you will look arrogant as you are forced to explain what is and isn't allowed and the customer will feel like they have been mislead. I call what we offer "branding" and that we offer affordable repetition to make it work. You are NOT the local commercial station and you are underestimating the business owner when you think he won't figure that out anyway.
My comments: None, the words above are perfect.
Background: In offering Underwriting to businesses I believe it is best not to mention the word 'Underwriting" because the business owner has no clue what that is. I advise not sharing FCC Underwriting Rules but controlling content by offering something very specific: ie: an audio business card (what is on the business card). Anything that is not allowed by Underwriting Rules can be on the station website and/or the client's website where the FCC Rules do not apply. We use the term of offering Top of Mind Awareness so the business owner is buying awareness that has value versus making a donation. The word "Branding" is better in my opinion. We include, say for a restaurant, "the menu and additional details at www...".
O. K. Walters' response is based on actual selling experience from every aspect: pricing, scheduling, direct to business owner sales and a history of doing so that he is very attuned to what works in his market. The station: WUFR-LP 102.7. He wisely gives value to clients, featuring them on the station website: http://www.purecountryumatilla.com/.
A FEW LPFM STATIONS ARE AMAZINGLY SUCCESSFUL. MANY STRUGGLE.
Yes I found many bringing in very little cash. I found one station doing almost $12,000 a month.
I have analyzed many stations and determined the revenue versus business sales (I don't say retail because many radio friendly clients are service businesses). I determined a revenue per $1,000 in business sales because commercial radio uses such figures although you'll get answers as low as $1.70 and as high as $8.40 per $1,000 in business sales but $4 is more frequently quoted. At present, a station that manages $2 to $2.50 is considered as 'doing okay' or about $22,500 to $25,000 in billing per $10 million in business sales. Please understand these figures are for all of the radio stations that sell in the area.
To clarify, let's say there are 10 stations in a town of 10,000 people 6+ in age with $100 million in retail sales. Let's say the radio dollars spent are $4 per $1,000 in sales. That means the ten stations share $400,000 in radio revenue. Equally divided by ten stations, that is $40,000 per station. Let's say one station has 15% of the radio listening. That's 50% more than the average. Let's say they have $48,000 in revenue. That is 20% above the average figure of $40,000 per station. I would consider that station over performing on listeners but underperforming on revenue because with 15% listening, they should command 15% of the radio dollars.
The amazing LPFM has about 1,750 listeners (the county by county survey) which is 4.5% of the total listeners. If we divide audience by stations that's 3% per station, so this station beats the norm by 50%.
In this market, the total radio dollars are $1,750,000. This station with 4.5% of the listeners gets 6% of the radio dollars.
Then the station gets about $33,000 from non-on air income that includes not only listener donations but other revenue from events, on line, and such. Even if you look at how the average public station does in this revenue realm, they almost double the average I've seen of $9+ a listener.
Granted they are a well oiled machine. They don't go after grant dollars, at least not yet. They want to take on an independent grant writer. They have a small staff: a morning and afternoon drive DJ, two Underwriting reps, an events and listener donations person and a manager that does a little bit of everything. Salaries are meager but the station sees more revenue potential on the horizon. Their format is classic rock with deeper cuts played at night. Daytime hours are pretty mainstream.
Some stations do very poorly. One station generates about $225 a month from about $138 million in business sales. We are talking about 2 cents per $1,000 in Business Sales. They have two listener donors at $5 a month or about 0.8% of the audience. The issues I see: an non-mass appeal format and too many talk shows from the liberal side of politics. You see, the town is pretty evenly split politically but many of the business owners tend not to be liberal, especially the biggest businesses.
The worst is an area with only about $3.15 million in business sales comprising small owner operated businesses that manages to get two to spend $20 a month. It is the only income. That actually is better, 15 cents per $1,000 in Business Sales. Two of 20 businesses advertise. They think they have about 100 listeners out of the 8,000 they reach. Here the station is about 2/3ds denominational Christian programming and 1/3rd secular music from their state. Religious stations fare quite well in this region of the country. In fact many secular stations opt for gospel music and preaching all day on Sunday, but for this station, the denomination is not dominant with under 5% of the Christian adherents claiming the denomination. They likely would have fewer listeners without the 8 hours of secular music daily.
In fact I would say in these two cases, the format choice and/or the lack of emphasis on selling Underwriting is the reason for the low figures. The very low figures such as this are more common than not for the typical LPFM. Likewise, many of these stations have specialized formats and tend to hate having to sell.
Poor programming decisions apply in some instances. For example, one LPFM does quite a compelling and interesting weekly hour length program. While current on the first day it airs, some of it is outdated by the next week. Even so, the station plays the same hour long program at the same time every day of the week, all prime listening hours: 7 am, Noon and 5 pm. It is a combination commentary, announcements and interview magazine show including the 10 day weather forecast and birthdays and anniversaries. Granted the weather is from a local weather buff but you sure don't want to hear last Monday's forecast on Friday as part of the 'Ten Day Forecast'. It astounds me dated material is included and then the same show plays 21 times over 7 days! How about, say, 7 am and 7 pm Monday and 2 am Tuesday and that's it for the week. That way it would all be generally current and hit a different audience each airing.
Because some stations specialize versus having a mass appeal format, the listening audience reflects that. On the top end of poorly performing stations, one commands about 2% of the listeners.
WILL LPFM SURVIVE?
I tried to add this to the website a few days back but it did not get saved...some strange glitch. Then my Word program, when doing an update, did not save the finished text but only the initial text, unedited. So, I'm trying this again from my notes. Sorry about that!.
The AM stations seeking translators on the FM dial are saying the restrictions need to be eased so more struggling stations can actually have a glimmer of hope via the translator.
The AM on FM idea was birthed by William Barry, a nice guy that owned a metro Nashville station. I met him briefly at a convention. His station was useless at night because a Cuban station was killing his signal. He wrote a letter every day to the FCC for years asking for relief. After a few years, the FCC said okay. He got a 75 watt FM station that could only be on the air from sunset to sunrise.
Fast forward a number of years and a station in either North or South Carolina asked the FCC to let them have a frequency on the FM dial. The FCC let them have one. Everybody was shocked and figured if this station got one, then there were many disadvantaged daytimers and stations with ultra small nighttime coverage that deserved one too. The FCC finally decided to help these stations.
In 2016 we saw a window where the most needy stations got an opportunity to grab an FM frequency even if it was far away. Next, everybody else gets a shot.
AM radio has been hurting for decades. I read that 94% of AM stations were losing money and that was at least a quarter of a century ago. More up to date is that only 5% of radio listeners tune to AM stations. One might argue the programming is the cause but the noise level on AM is many times what it once was and diminished listening means receivers are not known to be of good quality at receiving AM stations. I think programming and noise are the issues. So, in an effort to look for any hope at all, the FM translator at least permits a struggling AM to do a bit better.
Now that brings us to LPFM. I think we can all agree LPFM is the black sheep of the radio family. LPFM is secondary like the translator. The power and height about average terrain is restricted far beyond that of the lowly translator that can also be wiped from the dial with a simple move by a full power station.
I have frequently pondered why LPFM, supposedly the perfectly crafted radio model that fits the FCC's mission is occupying the bottom of the radio barrel. LPFM stations are locally focused and designed to originate programming and at the very least offer programming of interest to the tiny coverage area it serves. The more powerful translator must repeat a distant station and can originate 30 seconds an hour for fundraising. It cannot be programming altered to serve the specific needs of the coverage area like LPFM.
The AM stations are feeling the pinch of a crowded dial. The truth is, like LPFM, they need relief. As the rules are, there will be more AM losers than winners when translators are doled out. AM radio knows this and has asked the FCC to ease up on things a bit. If the FCC agrees, will LPFM survive?
I think that is a legit question. As the radio dial gets more crowded, the more crowded the dial, the fewer options are available to everyone. And the closer you get to a smaller signal a radio can receive. If you could get listeners in your 50 dbu, chances are when all is said and done it might be only the 60 or 65 dbu population that can listen.
But that is less of an issue than the technical aspect. Lots of LPFMs on the crowded dial might be required to move for some legitimate reason but find even a move of several hundred feet might not work in the near future. If your tower rental contract renews and your monthly rate doubles, you might be stuck because the closest tower is too far away and building one and going through all the red tape just to get permission to put one up just won't work because of time and/or money.
To say this is not a possible scenario is wrong. It will happen. Almost every AM wants a spot on the FM. There is talk of expanding the FM band but many think the public will not feel it too important to buy the expanded band radio. It's the same thing that happened with FM. Cars came with AM only back when I started driving and paying extra to have FM was usually less important than getting some other 'option' like air conditioning.
Look at HD Radio. It has not become a 'must have' for consumers of radio. And the big boys invested in the high priced equipment to launch it. Many are unaware that you had to keep paying for that equipment. They call it a license and even though you paid for the equipment, you have to pay for a license too, annually. So the big boys sat there with years of money going out and programming HD stations with zero revenue coming in. In fact, it made headlines when the first HD commercials were sold! They want analog FM translators in an attempt to recover from those years of shelling out money. I understand.
I think things need to change for LPFM. First LPFM needs some level of 'primary' service. If we need a few requirements the primary stations have, I'm sure we'll step up to the plate. Second we need the option, like the equal to LPFM translator, to power up and raise the antenna to 'cover the hole', a term meaning to fill the area of non-interference. You see, LPFM can many times only cover part of the interference-free area due to power and height requirements. That leaves areas where nothing fits in the remaining hole. At present 'tropo' can limit coverage to a few city blocks. I must mention that in other FCC decisions, covering the hole is a deciding factor. Try applying for a NCE station. If you get MXed by another applicant, the deciding factors include how many people your signal will reach. So, the FCC's agenda is reaching more, not fewer people. Thus, at 100 watts at 30 meters is contrary to the FCC's agenda when you talk about the geographic area on non-interference. The FCC needs to get LPFM in sync with their agenda. I also do not understand how the argument that a repeater (exactly what a translator is) is equal to a station that by it's very nature is local and originating programming tailored for it's coverage area. The thinking that LPFM and Translators are equal is flawed thinking and contrary to the FCC's mission.
So, I think now is the time to be heard: primary status of some sort and a power increase potential based on filling the hole of non-interference, say up to the coverage of a translator station. RecNet has some much better thoughts on the technical implications weaving through the FCC's mind for a much more LPFM friendly solution. I'm not an engineer. Michelle, on the other hand, knows her stuff from a technical aspect and how to communicate effectively with the FCC.
ABOUT A DOZEN SMALL TOWN LPFM STATIONS
I talk to a good number of LPFM stations. I tend to contact those in small markets that are trying to be the Hometown Station. This past couple of weeks my research has been contacting stations and learning about how they fund themselves. For my purposes I searched for stations that count on Underwriting for funding although a few have managed to get a grant or two, especially in the construction phase. In each instance we are talking about LPFMs that are the only local station in the community, sort of the LPFM version of the small market station.
Part of my criteria was the town had to be under 5,000 in population and rural (not a suburb to a city). Distance to the next town of equal or larger size had to be outside the 60 dbu and even better if beyond the 50 dbu. The station had to actively seek Underwriting. The station must have the philosophy of being the community's local radio station with a format that was targeting the general population.
To put everything in perspective I looked at number of stations received, the population in the 60 dbu and the business sales within the coverage area, choosing the businesses that will or typically will utilize radio in their marketing.
While each community was different from the next, sometimes quite different, the revenue had a consistent feel, generally in the $15,000 to $20,000 range per year. As I discovered more and more stations, some had under $5,000 coming in while others might be around $50,000 or more a year. I chose to limit my analysis to stations with no paid staff but well coordinated. It is here a consistent annual revenue figure started to take shape.
As you might suspect, the communities are all very different. The business communities are equally different. For me it was rather surprising to see one community with around 5,000 in the 60 dbu area have over 100 or so businesses, all quite small and the next town has maybe 15 businesses, all doing at least ten times the volume of business as the preceding community. In fact, there's no rhyme or reason to it. Both communities are about the same distance from another community of equal or larger size.
As different as each community is, and as different as the business community, so is the rate charged for Underwriting and what you get for Underwriting.
In keeping with my policy, no call letters or identifying details are offered since I consider such specific information to be held in confidence. I do this because there is a level of paranoia in radio and others on the dial might try to use the information to get a hand up on the station.
Here's a dozen examples:
What the figures are in order: 60 dbu population; business sales*; number of businesses in 60 dbu (per three sources); typical Underwriting package cost; number of stations received.
1) 6,658 - $6,200,000 - 123 - $5 a week - 35
2) 1,781 - $10,995,000 - 36 - $59 a month - 28
3) 1,663 - $9,608,000 - 27 - $2 per spot - 27
4) 1,599 - $7,863,000 - 24 - $75 a month - 34
5) 823 - $2,900,000 - 33 - $100 a month - 18
6) 2,911 - $7,056,000 - 37 - $100 a month average - 57
7) 608 - $2,800,000 - 26 - $119 - 23
8) 11,619 - $13,420,000 - not noted - $45 a month - 48
9) 3,160 - $883,000 - 8 - $50 a week - 47
10) 765 - $857,000 - 7 - $195 a month - 36
11) 2,010 - $1,012,000 - 14 - $200 a month - 45
12) 18,512 - $420,000 - 7 - $25 a week - 17
* Business Sales is used versus retail sales because many 'service' businesses use radio for marketing such as banks, auto repair, etc. Business Sales includes those Service businesses and Retail Businesses.
Let's look at the packages. Refer to the number above.
#1 has the cheapest rate. Underwriters get 5 per day for $5 a week but you must stay on the air all year. Spots are 30 seconds or less. Look at the numbers: the average business does only about $50,000 a year. Almost all businesses are one person affairs. Even the various little stores are. The station is classic hits and runs local announcements, weather and such every 30 minutes. When you have the
#2 has 26 sponsors each getting 5 mentions a day. All spots play 6am to 7pm, 7 days a week. Mentions are around 20 spoken words. An example is "The Dairy Barn with malts and shakes in your favorite flavor made with Bluebell Ice Cream." The station runs Underwriting on the hour and half hour. Five Underwriters are featured in each Underwriting break. $59 gets 5 a day but requires a 12 month agreement.
#3 is pretty simple: you have to run at least 2 spots a week. Minimum purchase is 25 spots at $4 each. If you'll buy 50 or more, the rate is $3 each but everybody chooses the 100 or more spots at $2 each. Spots can be 20 to 25 seconds. The station, at present, only airs spots from 7 am to 10 pm. Fixed time spots are not allowed but a client can select days and a cut off time based on the needs of the Underwriter (ie: stop spots when we close at 5 pm or play spots Thursday through Saturday).
#4 is pretty unique. It seems spots are 10 spoken words or about 5 seconds. Addresses and phone numbers are really not needed here, it's a small town. A spot might be "City Cafe offering weekday lunch specials and a Sunday brunch." They insist on single spot breaks. You get 3 a day for $75 a month.
#5 is $100 a month for 5 mentions a day. Specifically you get the business name and either your physical address or phone number. If your business name does not clearly state the business you conduct they will add this. For example, "The Red Barn" is a crafts and gift shop, so that is added to the spot as "The Red Barn Crafts and Gift Shop, 200 Front Street". Contracts are month to month but almost everyone stays on.
#6 offers short spots, stated as a single line of text. For $100 a month the client gets 3 a day Monday through Saturday. No Underwriting airs on Sunday. At least 2 of the three units play 6 am to 6 pm. The examples average about 15 words. Again, this is a place where folks know one another and generally know of all the local businesses.
#7 is in a pretty distant community meaning you'll spend at least 30 minutes at highway speed to reach the next town and an hour or more to reach a small city. Merchants mostly know customers by first name. So, marketing is not much more than indicating support for community media. They sell sponsorships of quarter hours and you get 20 a week. At present all sponsorships which are limited to 4 an hour air 6 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday and 7 am to 1 pm Saturday. Most businesses in town close by 1 on Saturday except for the gas station, store and cafes. The $119 a month means the smaller businesses have a tough time affording the package. Literally the spot is something like: "The next quarter hour of programming is sponsored by Charlie and the folks at Farmer's Feed and Seed Supply.
8) This station reaches 7 tiny hamlets and one town. The hamlets might be a mile or two away from each other and nothing more than a cluster of a dozen or two homes and maybe a business or two. Everybody shops in the largest town. The outlying areas are dotted with homes on 'hobby size' farms or ranchettes. What the station does is offer clients three mentions a day. Copy is fill in the blank type. Three Underwriters per break and that break goes like this: "Support for Hometown Radio comes from Mike's Auto Repair on
9) is in a small community with a few small businesses. The fact is if you live here, you have to bank, buy gas, groceries and most essentials 20 miles down the road. So while both of the convenience stores and the cafe are local sponsors the other Underwriters are in the next town down the road. I will note two of those out of town Underwriters that own businesses live in the small community and buy Underwriting. The area is one of those places where the town is tiny but folks live up and down the roads that meander the immediate area. With no newspaper, the station is essential for news and weather. Local announcements and weather are aired every 30 minutes around the clock and they all have 1 or 2 sponsors at $50 a week. That $50 gets you a mention at the beginning or end of an hourly weather or local announcements segment, 24 a day. Sponsorships are a sentence or two in length, maybe 30 to 45 spoken words (ie: a ten digit phone number is normally 10 spoken words).
10) is likely the most unique of all. Each client sponsors an hour each weekday but the hour changes each day. Most sponsors are from the nearest shopping hub but one is local. In the hour, which is equally rotated daily 7 am to 5 pm, you get 4 mentions ranging from a professionally produced sweeper to the simple vocal introduction that the next hour is sponsored exclusively by that particular business. At $195 a month it is pricey but clients like getting a whole hour to themselves. In dry voice the start of the hour identifies the client and perhaps a couple of words that are descriptive. At 15, 30 and 45 minutes past, the station's hired voice talent produces a liner that incorporates the sponsor's business.
11) is also an hourly sponsorship with an Underwriting unit at the start and end of the hour. Right now the sponsorships are only aired during morning drive and before business hours end for the day. Unsold hours are typically in early afternoon, say 1 to 3. They have 8 sponsors at $200 a month. Since much of what locals buy cannot be obtained in town, it is the next town over that most Underwriting comes from, 15 miles away, a town of about 15,000.
12) does the hourly sponsorship idea as well. The surprising thing is 10 of the 14 clients are individuals and families. The remainder are businesses, all local. For $25 a week you get excusive sponsorship of two hours a week. They tell clients sponsorships run 7 days a week and during the higher listening hours of the broadcast day, say 6 to 6 weekdays, about 7 to 5 on Saturday and mostly Noon to 5 on Sunday. Locals like their station!
Of these dozen, all but one station had a truly mainstream mass appeal format. One was current country hits. One was classic country, a couple were classic hits. One was oldies based. Two had an
Don't consider this a random cross-section of stations. I selected stations with a certain commonality to compare. In fact, it was more personal than anything. I want to do small town LPFM radio and was seeking actual case scenarios to gauge what might be possible. I intentionally looked at the composition of the community, their sense of community, general attitudes, sense of volunteerism and what they felt their future held. I also used an cultural bent. For example, I find if a community was settled by a specific nationality, the town seemed to have a strong cultural past that created a more positive thinking scenario. In other words, if your roots are strong, you tend to be healthy as far as communities go.
THE EXPERIENCED CAN MISS THE MOST BASIC THINGS
I have proven myself a bad teacher. I saw it when training a new employee that had never set foot in a radio station. I missed the most basic stuff because it was like breathing to me: something you do by instinct and without thought. When the new person pauses at the wrong spots and you mastered that decades before, it is hard to go back to day one. Luckily there was a guy on staff that had been a teacher. He knew how to reach back to day one and move the person forward.
Some of what I have not mentioned are things that are automatic to me. So when I see the result, it dawns on me. In fact it shocks me. For example, one would think a fellow what had been on air for a few decades would automatically know how important it is to say who you are (as in ID the station). I think about how many times it was drilled in my head that you ID the station first and last in every break (sometimes more). My gosh, one of the stations the fellow worked for used a moniker and dial position that clearly told the listener what the station was all about and gave their radio dial position. He had to have someone tell him to ID his station.
So, let's talk some very basic stuff: radio listeners want to know your dial position and what you do. If that is "the home of lite and lively favorites at 98.1 FM", you had better say it every time you open your mouth. There are many radio stations on the dial and lots of people scan the dial by hitting the scan button, so by saying what you are and where you are found you let listeners make a mental note, so they can return.
Another basic is if you say it, you have to be what you say you are. If that is 'hometown radio' you had better be hometown. Even if you are starting out with this goal, you will need several elements to demonstrate this. Promos are good, explaining how you will be the local station and promos asking for input from listeners. One clever operator even ran promos asking what the listeners wanted their station to be. They did weather forecasts and when PSAs came in, they put them on the air. They sure were not the model of 'hometown' they hoped to be but they made an effort to become that over the airwaves, frequently. One station, the reason I mention this, went months never saying they were the local station and wondering why it didn't fall in to place. I blame that on simply not listening to their station from the shoes of the listener rather than as the head of the station.
Another basic: you're not special! This sounds harsh. In radio we think radio is as important to listeners as it is to us. I once brought the top 40 format to a small town in top 40's heyday. 60% of the town was under 22 years old. It was the perfect format at the time. We became #1 almost overnight. We had fun on the air, were involved in the community, interacted with listeners on the air a bunch and simply put became a source of pride in the town. I'm not bragging. I was simply at the right place at the right time. I did mornings and was Program Director. Our billing went from about $5,000 a month to around $30,000 a month in less than two years. Everybody in town knew us. As DJs, we were astonished to be called at home by parents to ask for us to appear at birthday parties and such. None of us had a problem getting a date. We were plainly local celebrities. Arbitron's county by county had us at 43% of 12 plus listening and TSLs that were incredible. In the breakdown, 29% listened over 7 hours a day on weekdays (thanks to at work listening).
After a few years I took a job in a rated market. After being gone about 4 months, I returned to the station to say hello to everyone. The news director had a short interview show after the noon news usually reserved for a mover and shaker in town but the guest didn't show. She interviewed me, not identifying me by name. She offered a prize to the listener who figured out who I was. The clues: he brought the station to a top 40 format and you woke up to him each morning for four years and we gave the years. Nobody figured it out in about 10 minutes. Nobody remembered. The reality is time moves on and you're nothing special to the audience. Granted there are exceptions but you should never expect to be a household name the day after you're gone. The voice that replaces you get's that carrot.
My point is, it is a rookie mistake to believe because you have a license and a radio station that you are special to listeners. They might love your station but the value they place on your station is equal to that of every other station on the dial. I think of my TV viewing. I don't go nuts over one channel when I have a hundred other choices even if I like the channel best. I'm not going to make contributions and get involved with their station but rather just watch it. And it is one of several channels I watch. Likewise, nobody cares that you're local or low power. They only care when a bond is created. Understand it will be no easier than any other station to launch and get established. Sure, in rare circumstances you might have a perfect storm of support but usually there are more positive words than actual help and even that help has ebbs and flows.
Listeners are like children. Listeners live in the moment like children. I recall many times having to be reminded of the same things because living in the moment, I'd forget. Saying it once doesn't stick. Have the patience of a saint and say it over and over hoping it.
A LITTLE ABOUT THE ALTERNATIVE FORMAT
The Alternative format is hard to describe. It is a wide open format that can range from a mostly older group of big acts that commercial radio plays to a mostly 'discovery' based format of mostly unknown acts. To describe the format is akin to describing food. It is hard to make generalizations because the term Alternative is used for vastly different formats.
It appears the Alternative format is evolving. It may be doing what happened to top 40 in the 1990s, splintering from a mass appeal format to a group of formats that splintered the audience in to several formats and mostly alienating the older demographics that either chose classic hits or country or both formats.
For the core base, newer acts are not as mass appeal as the older acts the Alternative stations play (especially on the commercial side). The lack of consensus on newer acts has left little chance of maintaining the audience the format once enjoyed only a decade before. That makes it pretty tricky for the programmer of the format.
There are successful Alternative formats however time and time again, it is being proven to be a format best utilized by non-commercial stations. Even with that said, these stations suffer from several issues: low overall percentage of the actual radio listeners and low TSLs or Time Spent Listening. For the most part, about 1% of all radio listeners choose a specific blend of Alternative music and mostly listen about 50 to 75% less per week to the station than the typical radio listener. Online listening, while substantial, due to the many choices, typically has difficulty gaining any substantial numbers for any decent Time Spent Listening (or listening session). All of this has to do with 'consensus'.
One thing is very evident: it is just as bad to be mass appeal with a tight playlist as it is to be discovery based. It seems there are many divisions among the listener base that is not forgiving when a station tries to go too far in building a good cross-section for a listener base.
While familiar works, you almost have to pick your subset in the format and stay there.The saving grace is on centering on touring bands and more local and regional acts that listeners have an opportunity to see live and maybe even meet personally. This has a strong bonding affect with listeners, something I have seen firsthand in the Americana format.
At this point, Alternative is trying to find its way. I do not believe it will 'go away' but rather evolve in to several standard formats without such a wide variance. If that happens, there will be better 'consensus' acts that all will play, but in the meantime, consensus and low listening per session times are really hurting the format.
It appears the best approach is pick your focus amid the huge territory of Alternative and bolster it with bands listeners can hear and possible meet via local venues.
This is an important consideration for the LPFM, already challenged with total potential audience numbers to begin with, in reaching enough people to establish an audience that can sustain the station. In the right situation, you can be the valuable pearl amid a sea of radio stations but for many, it might be a struggle to make it.
BIG BOY CORPORATE RADIO AND LPFM STATIONS: IT'S ALL RADIO
The last time I mentioned this, I was criticized terribly and most of the folks never got the message. So, let's try again:
1) Can people listen to your LPFM on the radio? The answer is yes. Can that same listener also listen to Big Boy Corporate Radio on the radio? The answer is yes.
2) Does Big Boy radio TRY to get listeners? The answer is yes. Is your LPFM trying to get listeners? The answer is yes. Are the Big Boy stations able to attract and keep listeners? Certainly the answer is yes. Should your LPFM try to attract and keep listeners? The answer is yes. Would it be beneficial to know how the Big Boy stations attract listeners and keep them listening? Yes it is except for those that hate corporate radio so much they want to do the polar opposite. And I feel that is the wrong way to think.
3) But we're non-profit, we are not a business. Business is a way of conducting yourself. You do not know the meaning of this broadly used term in the context it is used. Look at audit reports from non-profits. The auditing firm clearly states "accepted standard business practices". I say that and the haters squawk "but I'm a non-profit". You must run your non-profit like a business because: a) you need on-air product requiring a concerted effort to obtain it; b) you need listeners and a concise way to gain them and keep them; c) a path to the monetary requirements of the station (light bill, possible tower lease, music licensing fees, insurance, engineering, equipment repair and replacement, streaming fees if they apply, rent, electricity, trash, sewage, water and such) and a way to get these bills paid; d) infrastructure of the station including accountability and transparency. To accomplish this, you must apply business practices. Defined, a business can be a for profit OR a non-profit entity that offers a product or service. The difference between a for profit and a non-profit is one word: profit. With a non-profit, the only difference is you invest monetary overages back in to your mission while a for profit pays those who own the entity. Being non-profit means you apply 'standard business practices' no different than the for profit company and you had better believe you want a bit more than just the bills to tuck away for an emergency. To operate differently is a recipe for failure in most every case.
I had a friend, a chef, who decided the time was right to start his own restaurant. He studied the big boys to see how they operated. He researched successful restaurants too (the mom and pop type). In the end, he said he learned the most from McDonald's. His restaurant featured vegan food, about as far from McDonald's as you could get. But my buddy was smart. He learned from everyone he could, not detesting McDonald's but recognizing it was a successful restaurant. His restaurant is still operating and is successful. No, he's not swimming in cash but he is happy and fairly comfortable financially. As a side note, he gets quite a few meat eaters as regular customers and some might actually drop by McDonald's here or there. That's a lot like the radio listener...your LPFM radio listener.
The true takeaway is run your LPFM like a radio station because that is what it is and realize all of radio has something you can glean and learn from even if you're the polar opposite. Realize your potential listener has everything on the radio dial to choose from so do what you can to get them to at least sample you. And third, run your non-profit in a coordinated manner utilizing accepted standard business practices.
ADVICE FROM ANOTHER BROADCASTER.
I spoke to a fellow broadcaster, now retired. He began a couple of small town stations and managed a good number of stations. When I learned he started a couple of stations, my first question was how and why he selected the town and how he did. His advice is gold.
Priorities in selecting the right town included the following: the business community had to be entirely small businesses. National chain stores and most franchises struck the town from the list (the chain stores are not as invested in the community as the single location locally owned small business). The number of businesses had to be plentiful. He specifically avoided towns where even the local business did good size sales figures. The reasoning is a grocery store doing 2.5 million can easily wipe out the competition. For him, the more businesses the better. A national chain simply bleeds off local dollars that mostly never come back to the town even if they contribute to non-profits. We're talking business dollars and the health of mom and pop businesses. Chain stores tend to hurt the mom and pop.
No industry! The reasoning was a business that has a large number of workers can bankrupt you if the plant or industry leaves town. A plant or industry generally has no allegiance to the community and likely has headquarters elsewhere. A dip in their business can kill the community. The school or government should be the biggest employer in the area. With that said, the population needs to be ample enough to keep the local school open.
A weekly newspaper is okay but no other local stations in town. You must be the only local station. You don't want stations in the next town paying too much attention to your town either (local news especially). You want to be the only station catering to the town.
The smaller the business the better. Mom and Pop businesses are mostly not too savvy in their advertising habits. For the most part, there is a syndrome they they must support the station as in supporting the community, not so much for the return on advertising dollars but rather as being an active part of the community. They tend not to buy based on percentage of gross but rather for good community causes. He noted many of his advertisers doubled their advertising and paid in advance when he took a lightning strike that fried his transmitter, coax and antenna.
Smaller businesses tend to stay on all year. In the first station he averaged as many as 350 thirty second spots a day. He did as much as about $12,000 a month. I must adjust that to current dollar values. In today's dollars you are talking about $24,000 a month. The town and area had less than $50,000,000 in sales (he too used not just retail sales but other businesses that typically used radio). In today's dollars that's just under 100 million.
Most ads were institutional, not the price and item or sale type spots. Most bought one or two a day. Most were annual advertisers.
He was live and local. He kept it real simple. As the only station in the county hailing from a town of just under 7,000 people, he paid minimum wage. Employees could do sales for 20% on collections. Everybody was on the air from the bank to the Avon representative. Many bought one or two spots a day.
Programming was country. With first time broadcasters on the air, he had very few rules. He had 48 country hits in the studio (changing out 4 each week). He had about 45 to 50 recurrents in the studio. You had to play one an hour at a minimum. DJs could just have fun, put callers on the air, take requests and dedications or not. He had network news hourly, local school sports, local news items each hour and the weather forecast twice an hour. I noted the network he carried offered 5 three minute weekday state news summaries in addition to the 4.5 minute hourly world and national cast. They also had a daily morning and afternoon sportscast. He carried them all. He admitted the station sounded amateur and that local news was whatever someone walked in to the station (he had no news director). Local news was mostly a few community announcements from a manila folder with instructions to pull a few to read each hour on the half hour. They had lots of commercials, about 12 minutes an hour or 24 thirty second spots in 6 to 8 breaks in an hour.
Everybody loved the station but a few complained, all advertisers, and my fellow broadcaster would tell them he could hire the pros but the business owner could not afford to advertise if he did.
He sold the station for $300,000.
ADVICE FOR BROADCASTERS TODAY: It isn't like it was back then. Even though he'd use the same rules in selecting a community he cautioned you had to think media, not radio. He suggested he would own as much media as he could. He would run a weekly shopper or daily news sheet like he did at the station we were at (it was a legal page with business cards wrapping the edges and the daily news bulletin in the center on both sides, taken out to the local cafes, convenience stores as such on weekday mornings). He said you must have an online presence and it needs to be more than just Facebook. And he added he would do whatever he had to in order to be the background on the cable TV channel guide or community messages channel. As he put it, you need to be as much of the local media as you can because if you are not, somebody will compete with you for those ad dollars. He wisely said back in the day he didn't face internet, outlying stations, cable TV salespeople and direct mail as stiff competitors. He summed up he'd offer his clients the option to market specials via weekly email blasts offering his listeners coupons and sale prices in each mailing. He explained a bundle package helps insure competitors cannot get a foothold. He said he would price a bundle in a way that by dropping one marketing service would cost more than buying them all together. In other words the pick and choose costs maybe 50% or more than getting it all as a bundle.
Having managed several small market stations I can tell you this information is worth paying a huge price tag to get. This is some of the best advice I have come across.
THE PERFECT BOARD MEMBER
I was asked who the perfect board member would be. My answer was swift and without much thought: an active member of the Friends Church. Sometimes called Quakers, there are several denominations under that umbrella from the Evangelical Friends to the worship in silence groups.
Why would they make for an ideal board member? The answer is easy. They act on consensus. You'd think they could never agree on anything, but that is not the case. In Church business, they work to create a scenario everyone can live with. If anyone is opposed they work to modify until all can say yes.
The other option, as a LPFM I know has organized itself, the board can only act on business matters with the founder and operator solely responsible for the day to day operation. The board is forbidden to act on operational decision involving the running of the station but rules in matters of business. At minimum, the board is the checks and balances and a voice on operational input from an advising not governing standpoint. The successful stations have boards that make sure the non-profit is focused on the mission and keeps the business side flawless while the day-to-day operation is not governed by the board.
The 'Friend' is concerned with inclusion not division and that's why that's a perfect board member in my book..
EMAIL FROM READER
"You sure seem to be looking for what's wrong with LPFM. What's up with all the negative?" I guess it is a natural thing to seem mostly negative. I try to help LPFM stations. LPFM stations come to me because they have problems. When everything is great, they don't tend to say we need help. Since LPFM stations find themselves in trouble, I hope my writings might help them avoid the problems described here. Sure, it is only one man's opinion and the advice is worth exactly what you pay for it.
The biggest problem LPFM faces, in my opinion, is a lack of knowledge of radio. That might even be misleading. It is a way of thinking, more than anything else and a struggle to be about community without you seeping in to the picture. You have to think community, all of it. You have to think listener. You have to think perception. You have to think human behavior. You have to think relationships. You have to think selflessness. You have to think service. Most everything I mention is due to a lack of thinking in a different light than a person typically thinks. We tend, if we will admit it, to think rather selfishly wanting our desires and thoughts projected as the whole community, typically justified by your like minded friends. We justify it by thinking if I see it, it must be the whole community sees it too. That's usually where it stops and the community never gets a chance to weigh in.
A fine example is the LPFM that did stunt for weeks with a format that was far removed from what they intended. They spent lots of time in the community trying to convince people they weren't really the same station that was stunting. From the funding aspect, Underwriters and Donors took a wait and see attitude, thinking if they stay this way, we might help in a few months because they were unsure the LPFM would stick with the format. Why did this happen? Because they failed to think about the stunting from different perspectives involving listener, relationships, perception, human behavior and a business standpoint (ie: you don't open a shop, calling it a tire shop by only offering oil changes then suddenly drop the oil changes and sell only tires).
I know a dentist that has a practice. He loves heavy rock, metal if you will. If you go in to his office you hear easy pop favorites. Why? He thinks about his business in the same way a LPFM operator should. He removes himself, thinks of the customer (listener), the perception it gives and human behavior. In short the background music in his office is not about him, but his customers in the community.
There are many excellent LPFM stations of all kinds out there, from community access to those that fill a format void and those that act much like a small market station. They all succeed and fulfill their missions just as planned with the level of community support they need. If you asked them how hard it was to get there, they'd likely say it was easy because they were focused, methodical and organized. Most of all they knew their community as well as they knew themselves.
THINKING OF STUNTING?
My opinion is why would you? Consider this from the radio listener's point of view: there are a bunch of stations on the radio dial. When deciding to change the station, you turn the dial or punch a button or you hit scan. When the listener hits on your station, what do you want them to do? If you are stunting, you are doing something that is not what your station will be. So, the programming you offer is immediately judged as a format to the listener's liking or not. You are judged by that first impression.
In my opinion, it is better to simply begin your well thought out programming choice on the first day. This puts you building on an audience. By stunting with something different, you build listeners who may or may not, and more likely than not, not like the format you intended the station to be all along.
Okay, you have heard big city stations stunt. Why? This is typically a cost-cutting measure. The old format is out and you are in that crack in time while you assemble your new staff and ready the new format. You stunt with mostly very different styles of programming from what the new format will become because you want to confuse your competition and increase their ramp up time to react to your new format. Competitors might tweak their format to win back what might be your prime listener, so stunting means they have no clue what you're up to. Anyway, stunting is very short term, hours to a few days in most cases.
LPFM LICENSE REVOKED
One LPFM saw their license revoked for an usual reason: identity theft. It seems the licensed and on the air LPFM was owned by a non-profit who learned they were shown as the owner after they received a property tax statement. A group had used their name to obtain a license for a LPFM, it seems, without the knowledge of the non-profit organization shown on the application.
Was it true identity theft? Maybe so. But how might this happen? Here's a case scenario: an applicant asks to be under the umbrella of an existing non-profit organization. Over time, the non-profit sees board member changes (not the LPFM board) and knowledge of the arrangement is not known to existing board members. The casual arrangement is simply not common knowledge among board members. The best case scenario is for, say the founder of the LPFM to be actively involved in some way with the umbrella non-profit, usually in an advisory position versus voting member.
But how might this happen? As I saw in the first window, the LPFM, while granted permission of the umbrella non-profit, really is an independent entity, acting independent of the umbrella non-profit. Since the LPFM is never a line on the agenda for the umbrella non-profit, the arrangement might not be common knowledge. As I have seen, once a transfer can be legally made the LPFM removes itself from the umbrella non-profit to a non-profit comprising only the LPFM station.
While this might be identity theft outright, there is 'theft' of sorts that happens all too frequently. I place blame on the 'radio bug'. Seemingly uninterested in broadcasting board members wake up one morning and decide the station is all about them or a portion of the board that wants the station to be reflective of their personal whims. It is ALWAYS programming. Issues with programming is the first symptom.
In a sense the board member or part of the board with the radio bug goes rogue, methodically creating havoc to stall decisions. They make remarks that lead other board members to conclude life is too short for all this drama and resign. The remaining board continues on until the group or person is in control of voting. By then the founder is frequently voted out.
It becomes even more underhanded. In some cases I know of personally, the founder(s) created the non-profit and many times put up their money to make the LPFM happen. They don't typically see any payment of monies they invested.
The light at the end of the tunnel is the rogue board usually slips up big time. For one, a greater than 50% board change is not permitted. They never filed the Form 316 with the FCC to show who controls the license. They tend to move the station without telling the FCC. And, as you might suspect, in most every instance, the in-fighting among the rogue board usually results in the board dissolving and the station going dark. By then, the founder can recover the station.
So, to avoid this possibility, and trust me, you'll never see it coming, it is better to stick with board members totally disinterested and too busy in their lives to devote the effort to take your station. Even that scenario has risk. The best solution is to only take on board members who have served on recognized national non-profits. They understand how a non-profit works and have a sense of boundaries they won't cross. Politicians are not good choices since they have to fend off opponents to win the position. The person that heads the local Red Cross, Salvation Army or other organizations that tend to be focused on serving are the best candidates.
A big mistake of some non-profits is to put donors on the board. Essentially they buy their position and may try to dictate. If they give you money now, once they get on the board they do not expect to continue to contribute monetarily. By putting donors on the board, you lose the income and control.
Many non-profits create advisory boards. If you want more people, this is the best place for them. These boards simply advise the voting board. The word 'advise' is key since they do the research and make suggestions the voting board may embrace in full or part or outright reject. Best yet, they lighten the workload of the board members although usually a board member is part of each advisory board.
This is all about making sure the original vision is headed by the folks that started the entity. The more you welcome in, the tougher it gets. It is much easier to get 3 people to reach consensus than it is to get 7 or 9 folks to do so.
If commercial radio and business taught me anything, it is to defend your position to the point defeat is not an option. This does not mean dictatorship but remaining true to your original vision and mission statement.
The worst part is the people who go rogue are the nicest folks. It seems the radio bug is like a curse that takes over. No, don't fear people who want to help but please realize the person you would swear didn't have the capability to act this way just might. I have seen it happen too often.
SOME BASICS & RANDOM THINGS
When issues come up at stations I like to leave off the call letters and the location for confidentiality purposes. So I will toss all this random stuff in to create a can of worms for a fictional LPFM.
Two longtime friends had a shot at getting a LPFM that was closing down. The LPFM was from the first window. One friend has a non-profit already, so they made the deal. In weeks the two were at odds. Essentially the fellow that had the non-profit was shut out of the LPFM but not removed from the board. It was still his non-profit that had the license. The station operator, was the one that bought the equipment and ran the station and a board member.
Now that board member who bought the equipment, ran the station and booted out the other board member is ready to call it quits. The board member that has the non-profit felt this might happen because the friend and board member running the station was short on cash and time. Simply put, his daytime job never gave him time to work the station and his paycheck from the job barely took care of the board member's living expenses. If the station was to have had a chance, there would need to be more time and more income to offer the time to work the station.
Now this station has run a long time, many months, under the Construction Permit. You see the licensed LPFM had to move locations. The board member that had control of the station just wants to let the CP expire and the station goes away since the old original site cannot be used. The other board member that began the non-profit is hoping to save it.
So now you have a station with all the equipment owned by the operator of the station that wants the station to just go away and a board member hoping to buy or obtain existing equipment to keep it going before the CP expires.
The truth be told, if the board member running the station would not have signed on when he did and operated the station so long with zero income, he might have been able to get himself in to a position where he could find the time and money to do the station justice. The other board member was more than willing to work the station and bring in the money but the rift on programming created a pair that is uneasy about working with the other party.
How this will all unfold is yet to be seen. It's too bad they never got licensed. They could file for the license, then to go silent and work things out. I'm hoping that the operator will let go and allow the remaining board a way to continue. At times like this, you need to think beyond yourself and think community. In reality, the station is in a market where there is no local weather or news, no local community announcements and such although there are local commercial stations. Those local commercial stations are satellite driven from a computer in a closet. The LPFM was the only local voice, or should I say, could have been if the operator had the time and if the rift had not developed between board members..
SUCCESS WITH LPFM
I have always felt Low Power FM worked well in small market situations. I found several doing quite well. My left field idea of a talk format was aching for an example and I found one.
This small community has around 6,700 people in the 60 dbu. They have a local newspaper. While there are about 35 choices on the dial with around 16 of those considered more local choices, none of the 16 paid attention to the small community, serving larger nearby communities instead. The LPFM operator figured on a local information and weather format.
I was told when a small market program director that the music was just the filler between the important stuff. When you're putting your heart in to getting and maintaining listeners with a music based format, you don't care to hear that reality. It is true and maybe that's why I didn't like hearing that. The reality is the Underwriting comes mostly not because of the music but what you do between the songs.
For this operator, it is a daily mix of interviews, short general interest features along with community announcements, local sports news and weather. They do local high school sports.
The local bank spent heavily to sponsor the community announcements. They sought other local businesses to sponsor weather, sports reports and other features. Between the segments 'general supporters' fill in. Local youth booster underwriters are many in number with most local businesses wanting to be a part of it.
While the format rotates frequently through the day, only community announcements and weather have fixed times (think in big cities stations that do traffic 'on the 8s').
Sponsors are the big push in that there are affordable sponsorships for even the small business up to the biggest. The idea is to be all inclusive.
As for the elements of programming, any local organization, no matter how small, is afforded airtime. The idea is simple: get as much of the community to be a part of the station as possible. So, if a garden club of 6 folks wants to offer garden tips or the animal shelter wants to do features on being a good steward for your pet and pet health, it gets on the air.
The station has no paid employees but hopes to have a fulltime manager and a couple of part time employees after year 2. While they are fairly new, they managed to barely top $40,000 in their first year. With the current projections, they are pacing toward around $11,000 a month in year two. That is a ton of dollars considering retail sales are around $96 million. They have managed to invest in an owned tower site and plan on building a structure that can function as not only their office and studio but a small community venue for meetings and small special events. Since the first year, they have back up equipment and generators.
Just how they do this is by on air and off air promotion. They do a little newsletter each weekday (single page, front & back) they set out at the few local restaurants each morning. They have done weekly email blasts with sales and announcements from local underwriters, something suggested by the local grocery store.
They see their LPFM as being for all the community including the business community since a healthy local business community equals a healthy town.
In asking why the small community venue was part of their plan, the president of the board said they viewed the venue as a way to involve the community and demonstrate to the community that the station was all about community.
A funny thing has happened with the station appearing. More than the board has noticed too. The community has more of a positive image in its citizen's eyes, with a brighter future. As the President of the board put it, it's not that the station caused this but rather that a group has demonstrated the community is worth investing in and that took on a life of it's own.
The estimates are that around 1,700 to 1,800 listen regularly in short spurts, likely around 2 hours a week. That means around 25-30% of the local area tunes in. Why? They get the local information they desire on demand, so to speak. Morning and noon hours, they think have the highest number of listeners since that is when people want what they offer most, but there are several that listen constantly, saying it keeps them connected.
The station has done well enough to be asked by the local cable TV company to provide the audio on their community message channel, something that happened when the town's school district gave permission to the station to air live sporting events. The President of the board said, "I go to the auto repair shop that takes care of our cars and they have the TV in the lobby set on our station."
The station plays no music at all. They do use some 'production elements' as a bridge and/or sounder for certain information segments. These were via an outright purchase from a production music provider. As much as is possible, voices of the people in the community are aired. Since this includes promos, it is possible to hear as many as 20 to 25 people in the community during any given hour. I was told death announcements and the city's ability to reach the public such as when there was a water main break have proven their viability in the area, not to mention severe weather events and school sports. Digital voice recorders help make this possible.
I want to be clear about one aspect: the people there chose to live in the town because of its sense of community. This means they support their own. Secondly, the people involved with the station have a history of boosting the community. They are known as folks who contribute to the quality of life there. They are not unknown and the community is flush with unity and volunteerism. They darn well might be a modern day Mayberry!.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
I'm not saying I told you so. That would not be nice. It is really, really frustrating to me because just a slight bit of attitude change would have made the LPFM work, or at least give it a fighting chance. I could spell out all the details, but it just doesn't matter now.
The LPFM had lots of potential. Like many before, the board could not agree. The format became the whim of one person. The remaining board did not understand radio. The plans never materialized. You see, the station became insignificant and the town did not listen nor support the station. The money ran out. They turned it off. The station is now gone. Naturally, it was the town's fault. It always is.
The frustrating part is there was help available. Lots of it. And good help too. The problem was the help was not what the board wanted to hear. They thought they could ignore conventional wisdom. They did. The station went down in flames.
I cannot say the help would have changed things, but at least there would have been a chance. As it was very, very few even listened. No monetary support ever materialized. Just maybe if some programming advice, sales advice and some tips on promoting might have helped. We will never know.
How did it happen? Egos ruled. The station became about the board, not the community. Please, seek advice. You don't have to take it, but at least listen. Some board members ran businesses. What was ironic to me was these business owners followed successful business plans and built successful businesses because they learned from others that were a success. If you asked them if they'd let someone with zero experience in their line of business run their business, they'd say no so quickly your head would spin. But when it came to radio, they thought they knew more than the people who have a career in radio. That's why their dream fizzled.
I truly hate to see nice folks with great intentions who had the chance to live their dream watch it fizzle out. If it was rare, I'd say big deal, but it is truly epidemic in LPFM. In fact, I am accused of being scum for trying to help. I continue to try because sometimes something I have seen or experienced actually was adapted to a station at some point and it helped them.
This was inspired by a LPFM I've watched for the past year. There are other stations I'm watching that I fear have the same fate. I have hope that's not the case. Luckily, I have seen LPFMs succeed incredibly well. There's one doing over $200,000 a year and you'd be hard pressed to find a business downtown not playing the LPFM. They do so much in the community daily and fortunately they now have a small staff getting paychecks that is growing that in not only service to community but in revenue as well. I'm a huge fan. I wish they weren't an exception.
If your LPFM is beginning, it might be a wise investment in time to create an objective, or goals of the station, with a checklist designed to qualify each move you make. Naturally the checklist and goals must jive with the mission statement. It should be designed in a way so that when someone tries to make the LPFM about them, the goals must be achieved and the checklist weeds out personal over community needs and your station's financial structure. It seems the LPFMs that wind up silent began with sound values but took a left turn and never got back on the path. You need a system to keep your hard work focused and goals are either reached or dropped based on the checklist that makes sure the mission does not morph into something you never envisioned when the planning began.
BUY FROM THOSE THAT FEED YOU
Selling Underwriting has it's responsibilities. One is buying from those that feed you. If you are a local station reliant on local support, it is simply fair to buy from those merchants even if they don't have the rock bottom price. Sure, running off to the next town down the road for a cheaper price might fit your budget and thinking better than spending a few dollars more from a business supporter but doing so can hurt you. Sure it is petty but it happens.
A case in point. My boss was buying a new car. He wisely told every car dealer in town what he wanted and what he would pay. He stated the best deal was what he was going with. He also priced vehicles in the distant big city. A big city dealership saved him about 3 thousand. It is the truth the car prices are set but dealerships with big volumes get more 'incentives' on how many vehicles they move. The smaller dealerships can't reach those sales levels.
He purchased a Ford from a big city dealer. Once the local Ford dealer found out, he cancelled his $750 a month advertising plan for a full year. My boss was fine with that and for revenge managed to get the Ford dealer he bought from to buy a token schedule, about $300 a month, on his station.
His name was mud with the car dealers in town who worried he might get other car dealers than a Ford dealer on the air. As he explained, if the local dealer wouldn't advertise, he would find a distant car dealer to replace them. After about a year everything was fine again. Both parties exercised their rights.
It was simply an unnecessary issue. Sure he would have paid more locally but in retrospect he didn't buy from those where he makes his money. Buying from those that feed you is always a good idea..
A QUICK YES VERSUS AN EVENTUAL YES
There are two schools of thought here. Neither is wrong but simply what you prefer. I have worked both types of stations. One sold $14 spots back around 1990. The other sold packages as low as $19 about the same time. It essentially took more effort to sell a 20 spot package at $14 a spot than a 20 mention package at $19. It also took less time to sell the $19 package that could be sold by phone. Both worked.
This is confusing: one station charged $14 per sixty second commercial. One station sold a package of 20 mentions for a $19 price tag or 95 cents a spot.
The positive about the $14 spot is the level of professionalism associated by the rate. Business owners figured you had more marketing knowledge and a better product. That was a correct assumption because to command the price, you had to offer $14 in value at a minimum.
The $19 package sold like hotcakes.The trouble was it took so much effort. You really could not sell it door to door unless you were working a mall or a strip center with a good number of businesses. You got plenty of quick 'yes' answers but you never were considered of much value. It was simply an offer you couldn't say no to. And to hit that $16,000 monthly nut, it was petal to the metal every day. Sure we sold other packages all the way up to $299, but in this station's scenario, the more established stations had the major advertisers locked in to annual contracts. They had to sell smaller businesses.
The issue with the $19 package was people talk. The station developed a reputation as being the cheap station. Once they were established and popular the packages continued because the big boys in business felt the cheap station was below the level of competitive marketing they needed. This was not bad, as the little guys still bought and the station survived.
Thus, either angle is okay. About the only negative was the $19 package station rarely had enough business at any time. There was always pressure to sell so many packages today to meet the operating expenses. The $14 station never had that issue. They easily billed $36,000 a month on average. There was no 'sell this much because we need to meet payroll'. It was not unusual for the $14 a spot station to walk in only one or two sales a day from a couple of people visiting businesses all day. Most visits included written personalized proposals. At the $19 package station it was 'we must have $500 today, now go find it'. Sure, we usually always made the day's goal.
My point is with the $19 package it was a daily fight where we never could quite get the upper hand, not unlike living paycheck to paycheck. At the $14 station, we didn't need many folks to say yes and we could devote lots of time to clients to be more than just a salesman. And you spent fewer hours working while making more money (literally $1,600 versus $1,200 a month). I found myself writing copy and doing production well past 6 pm at the $19 package station and the logistics were never thought through because there wasn't time. At the $14 station my day was 8:30 to 11:30 and 1:30 to 5:30 with about 5 of those hours on the street, maybe 4.
The drawback was it took a year to gather enough clients to consistently make that $1,600 a month. I won't kid you, it was hard. At the $19 station, I did about $3,000 my first month and it wasn't until about my 6th month that I reached the $1,200 level consistently. The $19 package station wasn't hard, it was just starting each month at zero and having to produce hundreds in sales every day. Quite frankly, it was my knowledge of co-op dollars and agency contacts that brought the first agency buys to the station that helped me get there. I generally never could get more than about $4,000 from those $19 and other cheap packages ($29, $49 and $99 respectively) and I had to create reasons (ie: community events and such publicized via the package announcements). At the $14 a spot station I usually had so much month to month business, I only had to add about 20-25% to reach that $1,600 in take home pay.
Consider this: when a $750 a month client stops, it is panic time. When a $19 package client drops, it's no big deal. So either choice has it's positives and negatives. I prefer the $14 plan versus the $19 package plan because it offered greater security and was less work in the long run. With that said, the $14 plan is harder to execute because it takes time to get there.
I know of using credit cards to buy groceries when I started at the $14 station. I know having a $300 order waiting at the $19 station and not having the gas or money to buy gas to go get it. Either route is not a cakewalk!.
THE NON-PROFIT QUESTION
First, I'm of the school of staying away from the line in the sand the FCC draws. The closer you get to the line, the better the chances you might be caught for something you felt was okay. It is sort of like the kid that is told to not cross the threshold of a doorway but then moves right up to that spot. You see that and are ready to pounce if that line is crossed. The thing I have learned about the FCC is they write the rules and interpret them. To defend yourself costs time and money. A broadcaster told me that you either pay the FCC or the attorney. Plainly put, win or lose on the rules, you lose time and money no matter what.
The FCC says you can run what is essentially an all out commercial for a non-profit organization. If you do, you might be fine but if someone files a complaint, even if it is not valid, you have to devote time to defend it (and usually money to craft your reply properly by hiring an attorney that deals with the FCC on behalf of their clients).
If you run an all out commercial for that non-profit, business owners that Underwrite might be confused and simply not like that they can't do the same.
There's a catch 22. It is illegal to fundraise for another non-profit on your station unless the FCC specifically allows. The rule, as I read it, is more about interfering with regular programming. Your out, by my take, is all announcements do not interrupt programming but are at a natural break. But that's my take. The FCC might see it differently.
So, is it okay to say the Fire Department is holding a pancake breakfast to raise money for a new fire truck? As a news story, yes. As a PSA, no. It is fundraising for another non-profit, or it can be interpreted that way.
I have had to deal with lottery, anything where you pay to get a chance to win. That's illegal on radio by FCC Rules. To get around that, I recall giving some details at a commercial station I worked: The Lions Club is holding a dinner and auction on Friday starting at 6. A family vacation to Maui, all expenses paid, is one of the items (the very item you pay for a chance to win). All proceeds go to assist the Martin Family for Caleb's rising medical bills. For additional details on the event...". As you see, I merely omitted information. On a non-commercial station you cannot mention the Martin family and mounting medical bills because you are using airtime to raise funds for someone other than your station.
It would be okay to say, The Fire Department is putting on a pancake breakfast Saturday morning from 7 to noon at the fire station. I don't mention cost or that it is a fundraiser, just that the event is happening. If you want pancakes Saturday you'll show up and you won't if pancakes are not to your liking regardless of the reason the event is taking place.
Likewise, let's say Wounded Warrior is hosting a free concert in the town park featuring Asleep At The Wheel to raise money for the organization. I could say there is a free concert in the town park featuring Asleep At The Wheel at X time. No mention of the non-profit or the fundraiser portion. Does that help? Sure it does. The point is the fans of Asleep At The Wheel will show up and learn Wounded Warriors is doing this to raise funds. If you want to support Wounded Warriors, you likely already know of the event. And if you don't like Asleep At The Wheel you aren't going to go anyway.
On local PSAs, the focus is sometimes just to relay events and activities the general public can utilize to engage with the community. Omitting the details keeps it legal and still fulfills the goal of giving opportunities for the public to engage with the community.
My final point is, the FCC Rules require you to look at things from all sides. For example, an established phrase is used by a company (Like a good friend State Farm is there) is okay by one rule but then there is competitive advantage that come in to play that might break another rule. The best rule of thumb is put on your lawyer hat and think it from all sides and scenarios.
In my mind, when it comes to FCC Rules, being as far off the radar as possible is the best place to find yourself versus the kid right on that door's threshold. When the FCC makes and interprets the rules it is very hard to argue against their interpretation..
LETTER TO A FRIEND
Sometimes it is easier if you lead the horse to water. If your LPFM is geared for the community, you need to lead the listener. Tell them what you are. It is not limited to a single phrase but can be several things. It becomes the way people think of your station and how they describe it to others.
Call letters and dial position are much like a business name: McDonald's, Men's Warehouse, Walmart. The names themselves do not convey the image you have of each of these businesses. They have to say who they are or rather, what they sell to convey the image they want you to have of their business. Don't you think burgers at McDonald's, suits for Men's Warehouse and low prices for Walmart? You do because they invested in establishing an image for their business name. If we say KXXX, what do you think? If I said "the station that rocks (insert city)" that tells you it is a rock music station. In time KXXX will be immediately recognized as a rock station serving the respective city.
Apply this to your LPFM station. Establishing your image is crucial because it says what you are. Better yet, it tells people if they have something related to what you are, they'll look you up. I tells listeners the station belongs to them, so they identify you as part of the community.
Taking it a step further, extend this to business cards and letterheads. You need everyone that sees your call letters or dial position to know what you are.
A pet peeve of mine is calling your station Low Power or LP (except in your hourly ID). If you will think back, you had to learn the definition of Low Power FM. Do you really think by saying Low Power FM it makes listeners choose you, makes you special or makes the radio dial freak out when they tune to you? No, it is just a term that makes the average listener wonder what that means...maybe that you're a pirate.
And while my mind went there, the legal ID is: your call letters (let's say KXXX) followed by saying the letters L, P followed by your city of license. For example: KXXX-LP, Fairview. Say anything you like either side of this. Example: Fairview 103 point 5 is KXXX, LP, Fairview, Radio made by Fairview for Fairview (yep, lots of Fairviews in that one!).
LET'S TALK UNDERWRITING MANAGEMENT
Figuring out pricing and managing your time, it is crucial to consider time management and the dollars.
You can only see a finite number of business owners a day. You can only call on businesses a finite number of hours a day. Realistically that is 6 hours a day. I count on 30 minutes per client, limiting visits to 15 minutes or less. Too many times your client isn't there and you have to go back or they got too busy to see you.
Whether your package is $20 a month or $200 a month, you still have to invest 5 to 8 visits to earn the trust of the business owner. Only then do they say yes. Granted, 1 in 4 businesses might be able to afford $200 but that doesn't matter. If it's $20 or $200, you will still spend about 2.5 to 4 hours before you get a sale. Let's say you increase that to 7.5 to 12 hours to get a $200 sale.
Run the numbers: In a 30 hour week. This means 7.5 to 12 clients at $20 or 2.5 to 4 clients at $200. Thus, compare $150-$240 versus $700 to $800 for your 30 hours of work. What do you choose?
Do you sell cheap? If so, you always will. There is too much truth to "You can always go down but you can't ever go up".
Do you offer Fixed Times or Drive Times? Remember, every sale creates a habit. Ever tried to eliminate a habit? How about getting somebody else to drop a habit?
Do you want your Underwriter heard by only those listening at a certain time or all of your listeners? I prefer all my listeners. I use Total Audience Plan, designed to rotate equally through the hours 6am to Midnight. Yep, they get some prime time spots too.
Why sell 'prime' hourly and bonus others? Think of it this way: if that is 6 hours a day and you run 6 spots, you have only 36 spots a day. If you choose to run 6 an hour 6am to Midnight, that is 108 spots a day...3 times the avails and 3 times as many clients as your potential. I can guarantee, if you sell just prime hours units, that is all you will sell since you have already said every other hour is not worth it. If you think this way, operate you station only during prime time. You'd never consider that, would you?
Also, consider what you charge per credit. Is it comparable to others either in per unit price or average expenditure? At least ask for what other media gets per client if not a comparable rate. For example, if that is $10 and you want to charge $5, why not say, spend $X and I'll give you one for each one you buy? This way you give the image of being as equally good as the other media in the mind of the business owner. To bonus some spots is said to be a temporary thing but it is an exceptional deal right now. In other words, if the average advertiser spends $300 a month, you might offer that bonus when they spend $300 a month.
So compare dollars to the amount of time it takes to get a yes, how many clients you can see in a week and how those credits play on the air. If you have somebody selling $20 packages at 25% commission, that means they get $5 for about 2.5 to 4 hours of work. What if you asked $200? That's $50 for about 2.5 to 4 hours of work. So, you want to make $60 or about $300 week? Naturally in time, you have 'regulars' so your income only rises from there but would you stick with it the first year to reap those benefits?
DETERMINING UNDERWRITER LENGTH
This is easy. In commercial radio I was taught 2.5 to 3 words per second. This is true but we tend to count words as if we were buying a classified ad in a newspaper where that 5 digit address and that 10 digit phone number count as one word each when the spoken words account for every digit. Even a website address is counted as a word, not as spoken.
Take a look at KUOW's media kit. Scroll down to the page that defines length: http://www2.kuow.org/resource/kuow-media-kit.pdf They very smartly use syllables versus words. The opening credit which is not counted is 9 syllables. Add 67 more syllables and you're at 15 seconds. The count is about 5 syllables per second as a rule of thumb, including your opening. This is the best 'length determiner' I have ever seen.
You might gaze at what they show their clients as this is their Media Kit.
UNDERWRITING: Some Unspoken Rules
Underwriting Rules are about as vague as you can get. Some feel it is a ploy to allow the FCC to fine stations but I don't think that is the case. There are some 'unwritten rules' you need to follow. And those 'unwritten rules' are not too easy to figure out. These 'unwritten rules' are 'opinions' handed down by the FCC but not incorporated in the Underwriting Rules.
The LPFM I am talking about is long gone now. I recall it was in Florida. I read the FCC statement but have forgotten the call letters. I thought it might have been a station called "The Blizzard" but I might be wrong about this. Now, this station was not fined, but 'admonished'. Even the FCC's response was elusive to what they wanted to get across.
First, the station ran about 16 thirty second Underwriting units an hour, bunched 4 at a time. They were fully produced with background music, sound effects and many were multi-voiced. Plainly put, they were within the Underwriting Rules even though they sounded like a typical radio commercial. The FCC suggested not more than 6 an hour, the only time I know of the FCC every offered a piece of advice on how many Underwriting units is too many.
I thought that was crazy. I know lots of stations exceeding 6 per hour, so I listened to a statewide NPR affiliate during All Things Considered. Between the NPR and Local Underwriting, they were running 36 units an hour. So 6 is too many? What about these guys?
Digging deeper I realized some credits were bundled as in, say 4 Underwriters included in a thirty second unit. Maybe the FCC means 6 units no matter how many Underwriting credits are in the 30 second unit.
Then I thought of commercial radio where a self-imposed 18 minutes was the rule. That would be based on an hourly, daily, weekly or even annual basis depending on the station (ie: a tourist town station might have a station where they run 48 thirties an hour in season and lucky to run 1 an hour in the dead of winter).
I was wrong. It became clear to me the FCC had a problem with how the Underwriting sounded. It clearly sounded like a commercial. The station they admonished admitted such on the air. The 4 spot cluster began with 'the following businesses provide financial support for W???'. At the end of the 4 spots they said "These might sound like commercials but they are Underwriting Credits for businesses that support us. To find out how your business can be heard here, call...'. The FCC had a problem with how the Underwriting sounded on this station. Literally that did not break a rule so, no fine, just an admonishment and a promise from the station to change.
They had other problems and the FCC managed to get them to turn in their license.
The takeaway is make your Underwriting sound like other non-commercial stations. And, the six per hour? Don't worry about that. Remember these guys were doing 8 minutes an hour 24/7.
Even more elusive is the random fining for something that seems legal. It was WOBO that triggered a fine for a short unit that mentioned 4 products a business offered. The wording 'menu listing' was mentioned. No Underwriting Rules seem to be broken. Checking with others, their stations limited Underwriting with 'up to 3 products or services your business offers'. They don't get fined so 3 seems okay but 4 isn't.
The FCC says 'no more than 30 seconds'. That's not a rule but they caution many longer units tend to break the rules somewhere. It has been suggested by many that 20 seconds and even 15 seconds is better. I agree.
I'd even go a step further, say just enough to get across the message and stop. I suspect that will almost always put you in the 10 to 15 second range. We always want to offer the maximum as if the length is the important thing, but it really isn't. The message is what is important. I had a commercial advertiser in one town. All we sold were '60 seconds or less'. I felt so bad charging the guy for a 60 when all he wanted to say was My name is Bob Smith. I can take care of your septic tank issues. My phone number is...". He was fine with the rate. The message was what he bought.
I like the audio business card approach: who you are, what you do and how to get in touch. They average 10 seconds on average.
Analyze what you include. Think like an attorney. What are you really saying? If you get a wrecker service they might offer 24 hour service or want to imply 'one rate' no matter the day or time. If all the wrecker services offer 24 hour service you might be okay but if not it is competitive in nature saying this. The same goes for the 'one rate' statement. The reality is the listener will likely only recall the wrecker service's name, so the name and number are the only essential things to say. Nothing else matters. And all we hope for from Underwriting is that our business supporters are thought of by our listeners when they need that product or service.
THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG SYNDROME
Consolidation happened in 1996. Ownership limits were loosened allowing for huge radio corporations. Granted the number of small operators losing money was substantial. That was one of the arguments for the Act and I have no beef with that. Consolidation allowed financial stability, at least somewhat. It changed radio and, I believe, not for the better. Sure, it will take a well funded company to evolve radio, keeping it viable for everyone. That's not to say the best ideas will not (and likely will) come from stations in little towns and via LPFM stations. My first thought has still not changed: Consolidation means radio is trying to serve two masters and it simply can't. The shareholders demand a return, always. Sure, radio has to have the money side worked out to stick around but I think the money leaves service in the back seat. Before consolidation money was a huge factor. You simply can't get past that. But the mindset has changed.
That leads me to the chicken and the egg. What comes first. Radio is the classic chicken and egg syndrome. You need the cash to operate but to have that cash you have to have something to offer. To offer something you need cash.
I am old school in my thinking. I have the Gordon McClendon approach: if you offer great programming everything else sort of takes care of its own. In other words, the better the on air product, the more likely you can get the cash to operate the station. Better programming attracts listeners. It attracts a better salesperson too (whether selling commercials or underwriting). And better programming creates listeners passionate about their station.
In my first job my boss told me something I wrote down and live by: a great radio station is a reflection of life in the community it serves. He was and still is absolutely right. He then told me, being my first job as a DJ, that my job was to do what the community wanted, not what I wanted. I call that 'the talk'. He had a station that truly served the community and the community supported his station financially. Sure we had to work hard to pry open those wallets and there was never enough cash to do all we wanted to do by reinvesting in the station but we survived, nobody getting rich and nobody really poor.
This was small market radio, much like LPFM in regard to audience size and such. The owner, in my book, had the right attitude: deliver the best on air product you can for your community, then work on the rest.
It is indeed the chicken or the egg. I like to call the chicken the programming and the egg the financial side. Our stations begin with simply eggs but to get more eggs you have to have the chicken. And the golden egg, it's just a fairy tale. You have to care for the chickens and care for the eggs, but I like to think if you get the chicken the eggs will follow.
YOU NEED A RADIO MINDSET
In the past week I have spoken or had online conversations with several people ranging from those in the radio business and those running or starting up their LPFM. The same issue kept coming up: the radio mindset.
Low Power FM stations are licensed to non-profit organizations who do not own any other Federally licensed media or, in some instances, a local media outlet. This means many if not most all groups are run by people with no radio experience or minimal radio experience.
Because of this lack of knowledge of radio and attitude, many LPFM stations are venturing down the path to failure at breakneck speed. No I didn't call a psychic. It is knowledge that tells me this. It happens in commercial and non-commercial radio and I've seen it happen too many times. It's like watching the first time user of heroin and knowing they will almost certainly have their life turned upside down because of the drug. You try to talk sense to them but they won't hear you or even give your words a passing thought.
The problem is not having a radio mindset. Attitude is another biggie.
Let's address attitude and break this down. 1) You dislike current radio so much you refuse to resemble anything close to radio as it is known. You throw the baby out with the bath water. 2) You have a concept of radio you want to be reflected in your LPFM instead of programming for the community. I have yet to meet a person named community. 3) You refuse to research the industry to learn about it so you have a fighting chance to have your LPFM survive. 4) You ignore the need for funding. 5) You refuse to operate under the standard guidelines of any entity engaged with offering a service and requiring operational funds or in short, treating your LPFM as a business entity.
Now let's talk radio mindset.
1) You are a business. You are entrusted to be a responsible entity worthy of a radio station license, to abide by Federal Regulations not only from the FCC but government agencies that set parameters of operation for non-profit entities. This begins with 'business practices'. That means operating a business. Do not be confused by that word. A business is an entity that can be for profit or non-profit that provides a product or service. A radio station is typically called a service. For LPFMs you are a non-profit business.
2) You are a radio station. Sorry, no negotiating here. You can say a dog has 3 legs all day long but that does not change the fact a dog has 4 legs. Too many LPFM operators think radio has nothing to teach them. In fact, that is like saying I am starting a vegan restaurant but I refuse to try to learn anything about the restaurant industry. And especially any restaurant that sells burnt flesh! What would you think would happen if someone started a restaurant with that attitude?
You are a radio station. That means you do not ignore radio. In fact, you should learn everything you can from everybody you can find that will share with you. If you think you are 'different' from Clear Channel, you are a bonehead! Clear Channel has one directive: get as many listeners to listen to their station. They can't generate revenue without the listeners. You have a LPFM. Is your goal any different from Clear Channel? Certainly not. One argued that. They said "We're about giving a voice to those who do not have a voice". I get that but does a tree falling in a forest make a sound if nobody is around? Sure it does, but nobody hears it. To say you do not need to study all radio in order to run your LPFM is a certain recipe for failure.
I have worked commercial radio. I've done non-commercial radio (not for long, though). The way you keep your job on air or in programming is by getting and retaining listeners. That's it. No listeners means no funding (sales or commercials in commercial radio; donations, underwriting and grants in non-commercial radio). And it means you lose your job because without the listener you cease to exist. Compare that to a restaurant: if nobody walks in the door to dine there, what happens?
3) It is all about the community, not you, nor the board, nor your friends. You got a license to SERVE the community, not yourself, your board or your friends. You are not worthy of the license if you refuse to allow your LPFM to be about serving the community. The fact is, you might not like the over the air product too much if you are serving the community but realize you are the caretaker. If you were selling cars for a living and only liked the Chevy Volt, would you sell the rest of the Chevrolet line or refuse to? You'd sell the vehicle the customer wants, not your personal favorite.
4) Experience is either worth a bunch or worth very little. Radio is divided in three branches: programming, sales and management. You have to have all three to survive. Because that person jocked on a college station 10 years ago ain't worth much. The guy that sold at a station several years back ain't worth much. The fellow that programmed a station once ain't worth much. The person that has programmed, been on the air, done sales and managed the whole thing is worth a heck of a bunch. Don't get me wrong. Programming and sales are like the right hand and the left hand. Chances are good you write with one hand but not the other. In other words, the left and right hands have their attributes even though they are not interchangeable, but you need both hands. And without the torso to connect the arms that contain the hands renders each hand useless. The torso is the management that is coordinating the hands.
Let's put this in perspective. Let's say you have a grocery store. Is the cashier or checker a good candidate to manage the store? How about the stocker? Would the produce manager be a great checker? How about someone who worked every position in a grocery store? Radio is like this. Too many LPFMs put the stocker in charge and think everything will work out fine. There's more to the grocery store than stocking!
So, the solution is developing the radio mindset. You make your station about the community. You seek out other stations, not just like-minded stations either, to glean knowledge. You look for what all radio stations have in common, not what makes them different. You approach the station with sound business practices and run it like a business in that you seek all the listeners you can get because that gives you the best shot at getting the revenue to stay on the air and fulfill your mission.
In a somewhat related topic, it really is nice when your LPFM can contribute to the health of the local business community through underwriting. Some think it is wrong for a contributor to benefit. Please explain to me how a business that benefits from Underwriting on your station somehow destroys what you do or that to benefit is a really bad thing.
Funny thing, I have about 38 years experience in commercial radio. Guess how many times an advertiser dictated or manipulated programming or even tried to do so. Answer: Zero. On spot rates yes, but our answer was if you get to set our prices, will you let us set your prices in your store? If you think commercial radio is dictated by the advertiser, you haven't a clue.
NEW CAR SMELL SYNDROME
If you have ever bought a new car, the smell of a new car is likely etched in your brain in a very positive way. I'm not trying to be clever here but to find an analogy that is related to what you experience with your LPFM station.
Think about that new car smell a moment. Think back to driving that new car off the lot and taking it home. It's a great feeling and the smell is symbolic of a major accomplishment in your life. Buying a new car is a big deal.
Now let's fast forward about 3 months. That new car smell is gone. The car has moved through it's routine paces daily and moved you from point A to point B. It feels, well, just like a car. There's no 'special' smell or feeling any longer.
Your LPFM has experienced this or will. Those volunteers, supporters and everyone you ever spoke to about your LPFM has gone through the 'new car smell' and is now back to normal. But that normal is vastly different from the first week or two. You have moved from the best thing since sliced bread to just another station on the radio dial.
You cannot avoid the 'new car smell'. Every station has a new car smell. Now you're nothing special. Prior promises have been selectively forgotten. The mad rush to the station has trickled to not much, if anything. Your station does not have that new car smell anymore.
Those of us in radio have been tricked by that new car smell before. We learned the hard way to take it all with a grain of salt or as my Mom used to say 'Don't count your chickens before they hatch'. We try to protect ourselves by imagining the station after the new car small is gone, after the emotional words of excitement have passed.
My point is even if the support is plentiful, it won't last long, maybe a few weeks. The promises made will mostly never materialize. To survive, you have to understand those initial promises and that new car smell support is a one time thing. You need a well grounded plan B. Focus on after the party not the party itself and you'll be fine.
The biggest mistake is simply this: being all you can be at any given time. If you don't follow this advice, you will make a huge splash and find what you are doing is not sustainable. You cut this and that or do less of many other things and find yourself being less than you were. And your listeners and supporters will see it as a sign of failure. Starting with less than you can do at that moment means you have a place to go. You have room and ability to grow and expand. Listeners and supporters will notice and see you as a success, a winner.
In the meantime, relish the new car smell. It vanishes quickly. Just don't get caught up in it all.
Another note: humble beginnings is the best path. Think about it. Who does not love a story of the underdog that never had a decent chance to even compete at that level, beating the best in that race. You hang on to every word and you celebrate the win. You feel connected. Why? You consider yourself an average person and that underdog that was average or maybe less than average fought their way to the top of the heap. Such a story is where the average person becomes the underdog and sees they too can win or at least there is a glimmer of hope. Your humble beginnings make you special and give hope to others. Build from the ground up with a good plan to do one step at a time and never take a step back. You'll succeed and people will love you for it, well beyond that new card smell.
FAMILIAR MUSIC VERSUS 'CUTTING EDGE'
One of the things lots of us in radio try to get across to many LPFM stations is the need to reach as many people as possible. We also get verbally 'beat up' by those that I like to call "Music Explorers" like myself. I get your negativity toward the same old songs. The truth be told, I've had years of playing the same familiar songs from the time they hit the charts through today. You sort of get numb to those songs, yet you recognize them as great songs but you just don't want to hear them for maybe another decade. I love hearing new stuff. That's me personally. So, why do I preach that those same old songs work? It is all in the numbers.
I cannot quote stations because the ratings are copyright but I can show you why familiar is very crucial to your success. You know the first reason is the number of people in your coverage area compared to the 100,000 watt FMs.
The other huge reason is the ratings. Before you say you could care less about the ratings or that the sampling is all wrong, lets look at comparisons. You have to realize the ratings companies must provide honest information or they will go out of business. To survive in their business with so many prying eyes double checking everything, integrity in your findings is essential. Let's say you are Tide laundry detergent and you subscribe to a ratings service that tell you how all the laundry detergents rate with consumers. Would you want to have accurate information or not. Would you demand an honest evaluation to continue to pay for those ratings?
If you ask people who love 'cutting edge' radio, several stations pop up every time. Stations in
That's only part of the picture. Time Spent Listening is a huge factor. So, now let's look: The station with 40,000 listening has 60,000 listening hours a week. The average listener listens for 90 minutes a week. The top 'cutting edge' station has 717,500 listening hours. The average listener here spends 2.5 hours a week with the station.
The average radio listener spends 13.5 hours a week listening to the radio. So, let's compare: 89% of radio listening is to other stations for the 40,000 listener station. For the most successful 'cutting edge' station, 71.5% of radio listening is to other stations for the 287,000 listeners station.
That brings up some questions. If I spend 89% of my radio listening or even 71.5% of my radio listening with other stations, how likely am I to become a member of that station and send you money because I think you are so great? If I spend the vast majority of my weekly radio listening not listening to you, what is my motivation to donate?
If you sell underwriting, you have to ask yourself the value of that for the business owner. Regardless of what you choose to believe, businesses underwrite for the benefit they get by spending with you. If you do not believe that, why offer underwriting in the first place, just grab the money, smile and thank them. If you are smart enough to understand the business owner's mind, offer underwriting.
Nothing is complete without comparing. How do stations do that play those same old songs and what about those that have those seemingly endless commercial breaks twice an hour? Let's look: In the market with the 40,000 listener station, the 'familiar' station has 339,000 listeners. They spend 4.5 hours a week with the station, approximately 33% of their time listening to radio each week. In the market where the most successful cutting edge station is located, the 'familiar' station has about 415,000 listeners tuning in for 4.25 hours a week.
Side by side: Market 1: 'Cutting Edge': 40,000 listeners at 1.5 hours; 'Familiar': 339,000 listeners at 4.5 hours. Market 2: 'Cutting Edge': 287,000 listeners at 2.5 hours. 'Familiar': 415,000 listeners at 4.25 hours.
Another angle: People listening at any given moment: Market 1: 'Cutting Edge': 500; 'Familiar': 12,800. Market 2: 'Cutting Edge': 5,500; 'Familiar' 14,800.
Why does this matter? Ratings are simply a reflection of listening patterns. Radio listeners listen to radio and you are at a place on the dial, thus, just as equal as the 100,000 watt FM. People don't change the way they listen because you are 100 watts and they're not. If you were watching cable TV would you view a LPTV station differently from your normal TV viewing habits? No, that LPTV is just one of many TV choices you have. Your viewing choices are not based on the power of the station or the coverage area but by content.
What this shows is that people spend roughly double to triple the amount of time listening to 'familiar' stations than 'cutting edge'. And the total number of listeners that listen to a 'familiar' station runs from about 1.45 to 8.5 times as many as will listen to a 'cutting edge' station. So, in a nutshell many more people listen to 'familiar' stations and they listen 2 to 3 times longer than a 'cutting edge' station.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to get this. Logic spells it out: the more time spend with your station, the more likely they will contribute. The greater number that listen is directly related to the number of overall donations you will get. More listeners means greater awareness. Awareness increases the chances of getting grants and underwriters. Entities that offer grants generally want to make the biggest impact with those dollars. The higher the awareness, the better the chances you'll get those grant dollars.
Now let's apply overall ratings to your LPFM because it is all in the numbers: In Market 1: 'Cutting Edge' .3; 'Familiar': 6.9. Market 2: 'Cutting Edge' 1.9; 'Familiar': 5.1. Overall ratings are the percentage of listeners versus all radio listeners in a market.
Let's compare: 1 in 300 listens to the 'Cutting Edge' station but 6.9 in 100 listen to the 'Familiar' station. Even the top 'Cutting Edge' station gets 2 in 100 listening while the 'Familiar' station gets 5 in 100.
Finally, let's plug these numbers in with the people you reach in your 60 dbu. Let's say that is 24,000 people: In Market 1: As a 'Cutting Edge' station you would have 80 listeners. As a 'Familiar' station you'd have 1,656 listeners. In Market 2: As a 'Cutting Edge' station you'd have 456 listeners but as a 'Familiar' station you'd have 1,224 listeners. I don't have to tell you to get donations from listeners they have to love your station and feel it worth paying for and even with that only 1 in 10 will do so And I don't need to tell you grant dollars would rather make an impact on more people versus fewer people. Plus, the greater number of listeners you have, the better your success rate at getting Underwriters.
That's not all. Your cost of operation is a certain amount of money. That amount is not based on the number of listeners you have. Let's look at the work that is required to pay those costs. If in Market 1, the 'Cutting Edge' station with 500 listeners at a time can charge $5 for an Underwriter message. The 'Familiar' station with 12,800 can charge $128, purely based on the number of people listening. The 'Cutting Edge' station would need 25.6 Underwriter messages per hour to earn the same income from the 'Familiar' station only airing 1 Underwriter message an hour.
That same Underwriter must buy 3 spots at $5 on the 'Cutting Edge' station to reach all the listeners where they must buy only 1 at $128 on the 'Familiar' station because the 'Cutting Edge' listener only spends 1.5 hours a week listening but the 'Familiar' station listener spends 4.5 hours a week listening.
So, the answer means you don't have to work as hard to get the money you need to survive when you have more listeners. You can devote more time to the product, your over the air sound, instead of figuring out how to pay for it.
No matter how you look at it, the tiny number of people in your 60 dbu means you really need to choose familiar over cutting edge whether you are seeking grants only, donations from listeners only or even if you will survive from underwriting. Any of these choices means your success level will be determined by the number of people you can get to listen to your LPFM.
CAN I GET BY WITHOUT PLEDGE DRIVES AND UNDERWRITING?
Under the perfect scenario, the perfect storm, if you will, a station can get by just fine without pledge drives, underwriting and even grants. While my head swims in the Utopian environment of such a station we all wish we could pull off, we must realize it takes a perfect situation to work.
Let's look at criteria: your community at large must want what you offer. In other words the biggest percentage of your coverage must be without any local media coverage and painfully feel the lack of it.
You must be very established with the community. You need to know everyone from the trash collector to the mayor and everyone in between. You must not only know them but they must know you as honest, with integrity and a long track record of working to make the community a great place to live. You likely received a reward or two for that in the form of appreciation for your selfless giving of your talents. And that reputation has stood the test of time.
You need a community that can not let bickering and pettiness stop them from working together to work on projects. They must have the ability to unite for a cause. They must have a volunteerism attitude. They need to be acutely aware if they don't pitch in or get the ball rolling, it might not get done.
They view the local business as an asset of the community and every group, non-profit or not, that adds to the quality of life is a valuable part of the community that needs to remain healthy and vibrant.
They live there by choice and think it is a better option over any other nearby community. They have pride and it shows. They make a concerted effort to support the community. They'll bank locally even if they can get free checking at the bank in the next town. They prefer shopping at the local grocery store rather than heading to WalMart in the next town. Each choice they make involves the underlying reality it helps or hinders their town.
They believe in themselves collectively, have the ability to compromise without leaving emotional bruises. They get they need each other and accept folks as they are not by a criteria they create.
I think you will agree that is a pretty tall glass of water that is much more than half full. There are such communities out there. You must be in the right one to pull this off.
To survive without pledge-a-thons, underwriting and grants means having a network of local citizens willing to step up to the plate and provide the funds. It will not happen overnight but over a few years. Your first few years will make you an expert on how to squeeze a dollar from a penny and make you quite intimate with the bottom of the barrel. If you can survive by digging in your pocket, you should be okay in a few years.
I know one LPFM that does this and has yet to miss a goal. They have a list of folks they can go to. They do it quite simply. They say there is a need and a dollar amount needed. Then they ask if the person might consider helping the station reach the goal.
In return, the station gives and gives and gives. They support anyone and everyone. Their work ethic is how can I serve my community today? The station is truly an audio soundtrack of life in the community. And the community responds, perceives ownership and maintains the viability of the station.
This station is comprised of several people known by first name and reputation among everyone in the service area.
Another station utilized a team of volunteers that knocked on every door and asked people what they wanted on their town's radio station. Quite frankly, the effort was more important than the results, but the message got across: everyone in the coverage area mattered to this radio station.
Another objective is involving as many in the community in some way with the station. The idea was to make it personal. The greater the number of households involved, the wider the support base. In fact, at the end of the local information breaks, a simple statement: as of this date the station expenses are $X and we have received $X. Our need is $X for this month.
This station was seen everywhere. You saw their logo. You saw fishbowls at merchant counters so customers could drop change in the bowl to support the station. Simply put, the station was well entrenched in everyday life in the coverage area.
And in every instance, such a station was distinguished not by the music they played but by the local information they aired. The music was the same stuff heard on commercial stations, perhaps going a bit deeper by adding a couple of 'wow' tracks an hour. Music was selected for it's mass appeal that kept everyone listening. In the most literal sense, the music was just the glue that held together the important stuff, the string of local information. And that local information was aired not less than every 15 minutes. It might be the weather forecast a community meeting or event, local birthdays and anniversaries or some special feature. Not one non-local program was aired (no syndicated shows whatsoever).
A CONVERSATION ABOUT A CHRISTIAN LPFM
As you might know I'm willing to try to assist any LPFM. A gentleman asked for my number and we talked about an hour about what might be able to be changed. He feels somewhat responsible but has little control in the LPFM.
He is a radio guy wanting to have fun with radio. A longtime member of a mainline denomination church he brought the idea of the church operating a LPFM. He was willing to help and help a bunch. He wanted to do a show or two of secular music he used to DJ back in the day.
Initially the pastor saw his vision that the station could be an outreach if being done right. The pastor 'got' the logistics of catering to the town to get more in the pews each week. The Church Council didn't get it.
As a result, the Church Council holds the purse strings on the pastor and what the church does. They saw the station as a way to have church 24/7 and the community would be inspired to visit them.
Quite frankly, the Church Council's vision is not working and they're questioning if the station is really a good idea as an outreach.
How do you educate them? My only advice was to say if you want the community, you must be the community. I suggested they try to involve all the community groups that enhance life locally to be a part of the station. At least that gets beyond preaching to the choir.
I suggested he have them analyze other outreach attempts from the past and identify the 'lure' that got people to show up. We talked about how the church offers to let community groups meet at the church free, how they have a clothes closet for anyone in need and the same with groceries. We talked outreach by targeting kids to get parents to come to the event and maybe even church. He said "When a kid passes by on their bike and sees bouncy houses going up and such, the kids want to show up and the parents follow. The parents meet parents of Church members and we wound up introducing the church to quite a few in our area." It seems the 'secular' lure (ie: a bouncy house and free food ain't preaching people) is lost on them with radio.
Let's be as plain speaking as a Quaker! Outreach means you reach out. If the radio station is an outreach, you have to do what the word means to really outreach.
He's doubtful the Christian programming will be scrapped for a secular format. I tend to think a secular format would be better but you can include local community elements to try to embrace people beyond the walls of the church and still do Christian radio. And tone it down a notch. Be Family Friendly instead.
If you want to see a successful LPFM run by the church as a community outreach see KNIL in Creighton, Nebraska:
Tone it down, I said. How many of you remember a TV channel you might have seen especially overnight? The station featured beautiful scenery and soft music as a backdrop with a Bible verse popping up here or there on the screen. About every hour was a short inspirational thought from one of several speakers. This program service was called Worship TV and people who never went to church watched it and many liked it. There's the minute length Seeds from the Sower out of Metter, Georgia that offers thoughts that don't leave a mark on your skull when they make you think. Let me put this in perspective, to do an outreach, you have to reach people where they are. You're not going to read War And Peace cover to cover to a first grader but Winnie The Pooh is a nice choice. You've got to be lots more Winnie The Pooh versus War And Peace.
The biggest mistake Christian broadcasters make is forgetting to put themselves in the shoes of the listener. They fail to utilize the tools they use in everything else they do to enhance their image in the community and gain new members. This is why they get no response. They simply are radio a tiny percentage of their existing members will even listen to or as we say in radio "preaching to the choir" leaving the people in the pews, the community, out of the picture.
HO, HO, HO! MERRY CHRISTMAS!
We are a third of the way through the last quarter of the year. October through December represent the biggest quarter in advertising sales. And that means underwriting too. If you're not already thinking Thanksgiving through New Years and the revenue potential you should be.
For many LPFMs, they'll be hitting the airwaves during this time. I wanted to share an idea that people should be paying me for. No, that's not my ego talking. Everybody has a few great ideas. This is one of my few.
Starting the week of Thanksgiving you should be selling audio greeting cards. The corny and folksy Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays and Happy New Years greetings are a gold mine. I like a 'sell once and forget it' approach. The package includes Thanksgiving greetings, then all Christmas music starting on Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) through Christmas Day, then New Years Greetings, maybe through the first week of 2017. I always include special Christmas programming: wall to wall Christmas music from 6am Christmas Eve through 6pm Christmas night. To distinguish this, I drop all PSAs, weather and all other non-music segments to simply play unannounced Christmas music and Audio Christmas Card Greeting Underwriting. My package includes it all. I'll even collect in increments for smaller businesses.
I'd get in touch with every business, even those that are never radio advertisers such as hospitals and non-retail entities. Everybody likes this. You might very well pull in enough cash to fund your station for the next year. Naturally, pricing depends on the size of your audience.
In a service area of a bit more than 40,000, we charged $500 with $150 in November, $200 in December and $150 by January 1 if payments were needed. They got 20 Thanksgiving Greetings, then 80 Christmas Greetings and 20 New Years Greetings. Hint: we went out before Christmas to double the New Years Greetings for an extra $50 and most said yes. Each client got a certain number of greetings on the solid Christmas Music programming on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, usually one every couple of songs with each client getting a greeting every 4 to 5 hours. We never had fewer than 50 businesses and I think our peak year was about 65. While this was a commercial station, we could get an extra $35,000 on top of our monthly average billing of $25,000. The mayor even bought!
By doing Christmas music throughout the shopping season, you distinguish yourself, encourage in store listening and get business owners to dip a toe in to LPFM's Underwriting waters. If they listen to the Christmas Music maybe they will December 26th. And if they buy Christmas Greetings maybe they'll buy from here on. The biggest part of sales is being familiar and being a part of a habit. If you try this, you'll be glad you did come January and February. When I sold at an AM/FM combo in a small community I could bill about $8,000 a month on average but December was around $13,500. In January I could never get past $4,500 in billing and only about $5,000 in February. So, literally, you are asking for Underwriting at the time of year businesses have the cash to spend and maybe even want a special write-off to close out the year.
Certainly some press releases to newspapers are in order to announce your LPFM is playing Christmas Music all through the shopping season and if you are signing on by doing this, it is even more noteworthy.
In major markets, the station going All Christmas usually increases their share of the market by almost 50% over their normal Nielsen Ratings. And they do it at the peak of the shopping season, the busiest month of the year for radio.
Don't forget any special New Years Eve programming as an Underwriting option. Sell the promo mentions as part of the package.
If you want to try this, I'll be happy to help customize a package for your station if you just click the contact me button. I won't charge you to do so.
As an added punch, let the owner of the business voice the spot. Don't worry if their voice is not that great, people will know the owner and like hearing the owner on the air. We bolstered spending by offering to put all the employees on doing their own greeting (you'll need to double the spending, buying double the spots but the goodwill is well worth it). And that is the point. These greetings are goodwill advertising, For you it is a cash windfall. For them it is a thank you for a great year and an expression of appreciation to the community at large.
At one station I managed, I sent Christmas Cards to every client offering to match spending in January and February via a coupon/gift with the card. In other words, if you spend $100 in January, I'll run $200 in Underwriting at a time you need it most, no minimum and no maximum. Rates based on Underwriting rate card. People really liked that we sent a card and they appreciated the offer with about half taking us up on the offer.
So, don't wait until the last minute, organize your plan now, work out the logistics and then start talking to the businesses by the second week in November. Yes, the early bird gets the worm.
Looking forward, we ran a 4-H promotion where 4-H members sold advertising in January and February at our normal rate but we donated 50% to the 4-H. The spots were 'fill in the blank' types and people who would never advertise in January and February bought to help the kids. It certainly made the worst months of the year a whole lot better. They could not buy normal spots but 'we support the 4-H' style spots. Great community involvement and we did a remote from the 4-H show.
WHERE TO START IN BUILDING A COMMUNITY STATION
The email said they get being the community on the air but asked how to begin. What do you start with and how do you expand. I love emails like this. I'm a terrible teacher in that I have done some things so often and for so long, I forget to explain how to begin. It makes me think.
For me, I build community by consensus. What is it in your community the greater number of people have a relationship with and thus, want to know about. How about the schools? You can build a list based on how many in the community are involved or concerned with a certain aspect of the community. Usually it is not the town government.
By building a list involving the most people in your coverage area, you cast a wide net. The wider the net the better the chances you'll hit on all the groups in your community. In this respect, the city council member, farmer, artist, musician, fireman, cancer survivor, etc., likely have kids in the local school and by involving the school, the rest of the special interest groups fall in to place too.
Just like programming, you want to start with community entities that reach the greatest number in your listening area and work your way down. The idea is to get them to sample the station and find something there that they want to know. The biggest net catches the most fish, so to speak.
So, in building your station start at the top because everybody below the top few entities will likely have one of the top entities in common. You stand a better chance at being the whole community in this way.
BRANDING YOUR STATION
Branding your station is a vital programming element. I'm of the school you don't have to describe the music you play because the listener gets that but my question is if a listener samples you for 15 to 20 minutes what do they say about your station? Did they even know who you are? If they did know who you are do they get you are the local station?
Listeners tune in all the time and many don't stick around a long time. They might be listening while making deliveries, get interrupted by something or merely pass beyond the range of your station. As has been said, you have only one chance to make a good impression.
Part of your success is how frequently you let the listener know who you are and that you are local. If you are listener supported, say it a bunch. My point here is every listener should come away from a short listening session with your station knowing who you are, how you operate and 'the proof is in the pudding' by doing something local.
Let's define local. That might be a station ID that makes reference to something the listener identifies as 'local'. It might be a local voice, a community announcement or a thank you 'insert town name here' for listening. The very reason KCYB-LP calls itself "Cypress Radio" is so every time they identify the radio station, the community they serve is in the station identification. Beyond that, you need to identify as the local station as much as feasible around the clock. This is branding your station.
Listeners love local, so branding yourself make a connection to that listener geographically. I hear many LPFM stations talk branding and sell that idea to potential business underwriters and even push they are the local station but sometimes this branding does not carry over to the over the air product.
I'd like to suggest you tune in for 15 or 20 minutes and ask yourself honestly what your impression is. What are you doing that is uniquely local. How well did you get this across?
A final tip. If you do community announcements, I believe doing one at a time once or twice an hour helps to reinforce your brand. If you do them all at once, I must ask how often you have to update this? Played one at a time, they all have their specified kill date and time that prevents having to record the whole bunch again.
RESPONSE TO EMAIL: On branding, my question is: How does the average person that listens to your station (not anyone you know) describe your station? What pops out of their mouth first? second? Ask some folks. If the answer is not what you want them to say, you need to brand your station better. You need to tell them what to say over the airwaves.
And your insisting on saying LPFM or Low Power FM, again, go to a place with several people of various ages and ask them what LPFM means or what a Low Power FM is. When you get those answers you will see what I mean. I doubt you really knew what LPFM would be if you weren't in radio. You are just another radio signal on the FM dial. Do 100,000 watt FMs call themselves HPFM? High Power FM? Or how about KXXX, Class C FM? Ever wonder why that is?.
EXPLAIN PROGRAMMING BY CONSENSUS (and more tidbits)
is what the email asked. In a sentence, it is finding what the greatest number of people in your coverage area likes or feels is important.
A friend said you can get 10 people in a room and you'd be hard pressed to get them to agree on anything. That's true depending on the statement. In radio there is common ground that can unite almost everyone. Your job is to find that.
It takes research. This means you evaluate your community to see what most everyone has in common, then you center in on these people to look deeper to see what they can agree upon. It means lots of work going where the community hangs out. You ask questions like they type of music they like, favorite artists and maybe have the 'sing along' parts of songs they can rate from 1 to 10. The more you ask in various age groups and economic classes, you'll notice there is a pattern: some songs everyone likes or at least knows and does not find offensive to their musical palate.
These songs become the core of your music library. I will not contend you do auditorium settings since most stations could never afford this. If you can't afford it, you have to look at stations who do well in gaining listeners and see what they do and mostly what they don't do. This gives you a clue. You can bet what they don't do has a very good reason behind it.
Beyond this, the 'gut programmer' comes in to play. If you'll think about that party, family gathering and office gathering, you'll come away with an idea of what music you can play that makes everyone at least neutral in the music selection. In other words, it might not be their first choice but it's not bad either. The idea is playing music for a room of people that leaves nobody in the room complaining. Sounds boring, right? It's not to the people in the room.
You might have heard Local is king. It is like we were born with this knowledge. Let's break it down. The reason local information is so important in radio is consensus. We, by being local, want information that affects us directly or indirectly. In small communities school information is big because everybody's kids go to that school. We never have a problem with local information. Apply this to your music choices too.
The problem most of us have is the person heading up the music side loves music, knows music and it plays an important role in their lives. The person has a hard time not being personally involved. The good music director does not look at the music library as their 'painting' they want to hang up in that art gallery but rather they see building a music library much like stocking supermarket shelves making sure the items the public wants are on those shelves. The smart music director knows familiar and comfortable wins, that the music listener is not the explorer they are but a person wanting songs they already know.
So, get out to the community events and meet your audience face to face. Learn their likes and dislikes. Then apply what you learn to find that common ground for as many people in your area as possible. The other option is taking on a programmer with a successful track record. They'll know what to play. They'll have a 'gut' feel for the right songs by merely looking at demographics and economic information.
Last, analyze your radio dial locally and find ways to build listeners by targeting the other station's weaknesses. For example, in one market I suggested never being more than seconds away from another song because other local stations were stopping for 5 minute commercial breaks and one station with an hourly 5 minute network newscast. I wanted to attract those that tuned away when the commercials or news came on. My plan was simple, be playing music when they're in commercials or news and then keep breaks short enough to keep them from going back. Some might balk at non-profit radio being competitive but I will ask, you do want as many listeners as you can get, right?
The real key to doing all of this is taking 'you' out of the mix. You have to look at this as a job or a business. You're not building a radio station for you but rather the community. If you can detach your personal feeling from the equation you will have success.
You might question why consensus is so crucial. The answer is simple: you have a tiny, tiny coverage area and reach very few people compared to the full power stations. So, looking at the reach of other media (you'll you need to win dollars from) and how many donate of overall listeners, you need to hit a large group in your tiny area to make the numbers work. Maybe 1 in 10 listeners will donate. Underwriters want reach that compares to other media. As much as you want to think otherwise, dollars are assigned at the underwriter level. In other words the amount they use for charitable or advertising purposes is not some unspent cash they add to that $3,000 but a fraction of what is already spent. The dollars are currently in use. You need a reason to change their buying habits. In other words if a business spends $3,000 you are not going after unclaimed dollars but trying to persuade that business to give you a piece of that $3,000 already going out the door. If your offer is not attractive enough to get them to do that, you get zero of that $3,000.
If you choose a format that hits 2% of the listeners and you have 20,000 in your 60 dbu, you will never have more than 400 listeners. That's 40 that donate if you're lucky, maximum as the perfectly fine-tuned station. Based on average radio listening, an underwriting message might reach 10 people every time it plays if you are doing everything perfectly. If you are a business, is 10 people hearing your message worth fooling with when that newspaper ad reaches 3,000 at a time? Think about this and think hard. Such a choice has almost a 100% chance of failure. You cannot pay the operating expenses with so few people. Don't you want something that serves more of your community and makes more of a contribution to local quality of life?
I'm telling you just what you already know. The issue is most people do not look at things from the listener or underwriter's shoes and that is the problem. You have to think from the mind of the listener or underwriter, not your own. Evaluate your message based on what the listener and underwriter will perceive it to be.
Our problem is we are so excited about the station we forget to convey only what is important to the listeners and the underwriter. In the listener and underwriter mind, you're just another station and nothing to get excited about, so you have to convey reasons to listen or support the station. Your station is akin to a new store opening in a strip center in your neighborhood. How excited does that get you? Now, what does that store's owner need to say to get you to walk in the door? This is how you approach things.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFIT AND NONPROFIT
The Future of LPFM below spurred a phone call. We talked about Profit and Non-Profit businesses. I conclude people do not understand the meaning of the word Business. The dictionary describes the term in it's various usages but Investopedia.com likely gives the best definition:
"A business is an organization or enterprising entity engaged in commercial, industrial or professional activities. A company transacts business activities through the production of a good, offering of a service or retailing of already manufactured products. A business can be a for-profit entity or a nonprofit organization that operates to fulfill a charitable mission."
Now, when I say Business, the this definition applies. You see that business is more of a noun, descriptive of the act you engage in no matter if you are for profit or not. Because you operate, you are still a business no matter how you choose to structure yourself. Like the for profit business, you must operate as a Business because it's what you are. To say otherwise is akin to stating you are not a human being when you are. No matter what you do or say, you are still a human being. You might hate being a business that is a nonprofit, but you are still a business and must operate as one.
Some idiot somewhere created this nonsense that a nonprofit was not a business and should refuse to be one. Somehow Business means Corporate and Corporate is always bad in such a person's belief. Nonsense, I state because of the above statement. Because you are a business, and cannot get away from that you must create a plan to pay the bills in some way or, wait for it, you'll go out of Business.
You might gather I take lots of criticism for saying your LPFM is a business. And that you have to run it like a business. Plainly put, if you don't have a Business Plan to produce the revenue plan to function (pay your operating expenses and put a little aside for a rainy day) you won't last. Hey, you do this with your personal life. No nonprofit or for profit entity survives without a clear path to revenue. So, get over it. Think business and work the plan.
My caller still argued. I sent a link to Minnesota Public Radio's financial filings including their IRS Form 990s they link to their website. Look yourself: http://www.mpr.org/about/finance He pondered how legal they were. That showed me his ignorance not only of the word business but the belief that idiot somewhere created that a nonprofit just somehow magically has their money appear when the stars align a certain way.
You might say I'm angry and condescending here. You're way off. Frustrated is a better word. I'm passionate about radio. I really hate to see good, dedicated and sincere folks work their tail ends off raising funds to get a LPFM on the air and then not have a plan to survive when they get on the air. The result is repeated over and over: they run out of money and turn in their license.
So who am I? I'm the guy that peered over the cliff. As you line up, convinced you can fly and step off the edge of that cliff, I'm the guy that is saying 'nobody is flying, they're falling to the ground below' as the next person eagerly walks off the cliff saying I'm wrong. I have run radio stations. I manage one now in a top 10 market. I actually know from experience. I'm no expert. I don't have to be. It's reality even a person without any radio experience can see.
It is no more evil to have a business plan to gain the revenue to provide the service your nonprofit offers through your LPFM than it is to operate as if the money will somehow magically appear. Use a bit of common sense. Look at your life. When you were dead broke and needed a product or service you couldn't pay for, did the money magically appear or did you try a business plan to find the money?
If you're reading this and scratching your head, I get that. I suppose some people are just going to lose no matter what you do but if just a few will listen then I've done what I set out to accomplish. And if that makes me 'too corporate', well, I'll sit back and watch you fail but I truly hope you don't. I'm not being negative, I just have seen the pattern repeat itself time and time again. And yes, as the criticism flies (you're too corporate, you're a condescending know-it-all, you're what's wrong with radio, who died and made you the god of radio), I feel I'm talking to a brick wall.
Those who have been in radio tend to agree with me. Those who have had their station since the first filing window say I'm spot on. Some say "Why do you waste your time on these people?" My answer is for the same reason you'd reach out to help a total stranger that needs your help. Most just don't know they need it.
I'm always willing to help in any way I can no matter what your format choice or setup. I want LPFM to be all it can be. You don't have to take my advice, just mull it over and make your own decision. In fact, I'd rather you get advice from several in radio paying attention to their experience. They need to understand what it is like to run a station, have been on the sales side of the building and on the programming side. Radio is: management, programming and sales or funding meaning you sell people on providing you the income you need. You must have a plan for all three and neither programming nor sales can have an upper hand as both are equally important. So reach out and ask. I think you'll find most of us in radio learned from those who shared their knowledge with us and we are more than willing to share with you.
THE FUTURE OF LPFM
I had dinner with a couple of LPFM operators. We talked about a number of things including that article in the New York Times saying the big boys should be threatened by LPFM. We laughed. I'm not trying to be critical here, just realistic. LPFM is viewed as a joke by the big boys even though they claim they could be threatened by LPFM on the sales end. That alone produces a real true belly laugh until you cry. Let's look at the state of LPFM.
LPFM is not a threat to the big boys. The big boys worry about dollars. The dollars LPFM gets come from sources that will never, even in an alternative universe, ever be advertsers on the big boy stations. That insurance agency doing $200,000 gross per year cannot afford you, never had, never will. Name an account executive of one big boy station that ever visited them. Listeners? How much of a dent will LPFM make in your 25,000 average quarter hour listening level and your 2.5 share? Oh, interference? Name the cases, please. What? Can't think of one, big boy? Nor can I. I have the toughest time trying to get this Christmas Tree light to interfere with my floodlight. Seems the floodlight wins every time. So, how many listeners have you lost in that micro coverage of that LPFM? I'm serious. I want an answer.
LPFM is not real radio. It's just people who know nothing getting to play radio, badly. Harsh. We're being real here. This is what the big boys think of LPFM. Why is that? Most stations are a joke. Sad but true. Some are expensive iPods for the operator. Some are blindly via ignorance, running stations they'll shut down by either lack of funding or pure frustration. Many are a certain flavor of Christianity and a costly outreach church councils will gladly cut from the budget in the future to buy new pews. A few shining examples are run by radio pros, some with no prior radio experience. You read right, no prior radio experience but flush with logic, common sense and street smarts. Sadly most of these struggle financially since they don't come from a sales background or their job prevents them from making more of a financial impact.
So what is killing LPFM's potential? I think it boils down to three things: ego, lack of knowledge and a lack of desire to learn.
Ego kills many stations. It's not about you, it's about the community you serve. The radio station is not your toy. You merely are the caretaker who does what most of the listeners in your area want from radio if you are doing things right. You choice of format and music is programming for you and likely your small circle of friends who think like you.
Knowledge. Lack of knowledge is the key. I've had conversations with radio people brought in to LPFMs to guide them. One has been doing radio for decades. He's managed stations, some big ones, programmed, done sales and in very competitive environments. I wish I knew what he knows. When he created the plan the board booted him out explaining he had never run a non-commercial station in his career and thus, they had just as much experience at running a non-commercial station as he did! I'm not making this up. That's about like saying a guy that ran a bunch of dine in restaurants can't operate a fast food restaurant. Guess what folks, there's a difference but they're both restaurants and 99% transfers from dining in to fast food.
Lack of desire to learn is rampant. You see, in the eyes of some, I'm the face of evil incarnate for LPFM. Why? Because I know how to program for the masses through consensus and I know how to sell clients because I've done it so long I know the mindset of the business owner. The truth is a format that reaches 1 or 2% will never make it because you reach so few people. That's even true if you reach 250,000 in your 60 dbu. And if you expect a business owner to say yes, you better have a logical and reasonable business reason for them to part with their money and that's not warm fuzzy feelings but benefit. When I say benefit the horns pop out of my head at some LPFM stations and the same happens when I talk about playing any song or songs any other commercial station plays. I try helping but there is no desire to learn.
Can LPFM make an impact? You bet it can. It does in isolated spots. These isolated success stories range from community stations manned by volunteer DJs to stations run by former commercial radio pros. They all have something in common. They learned. They still earn. They leave the ego at the door. They believe radio is about serving as much of the community as possible They have a plan and make sure they follow through. They understand the business owner and the listener.
So, the secret of success for your LPFM and for LPFM actually living up to it's potential is Knowledge, Desire to serve and lack of Ego.
As a footnote, if I can be opinionated, the most useless format in my opinion is widely defined as community radio, but I'm very much a fan of community radio done right. The community radio I speak of is anything goes and a hodge podge of mismatched programs where the DJ's ego is served by playing their favorite songs. I call this vanity radio but recently a known big boy programmer aptly described it as 'Club Radio' when the DJs form a club of sorts and pretty much their listeners are fellow club members. That's pretty accurate.
Great community radio has shows where it is all about serving the needs of the community. The shows are well planned and executed and scheduling is arranged to allow one show to run in to the next and so forth (no rock followed by opera and then dance hits). The good community stations are consistent meaning there are certain things they do every hour no matter the show. They sell attractive packages that can introduce the business to all their listeners, not just those that listen to a specific show each week. And they have community outreach to grow.
Also. radio is not about playing that one track off that album that never gets played but you think is the best song on the album. It is about playing the songs listeners want to hear even if you hate it. There's a reason that song you claim is the best off that CD does not get played anywhere. It is because people don't want to hear it and that, my friend, is the honest to God truth. If that wasn't the case, the record label would have released it as a single to become a hit. The music directors would have put it in rotation and the research would have shown the listeners want to hear it.
As you can see, LPFM has major hurdles to jump. Knowledge is the key and removing your ego is essential. For the good of all LPFM stations, please step up to the plate and put your community before yourself to fill the shoes of where LPFM should and certainly deserves to be. Seek advice from as many as you can being careful to select those who understand radio from a sales, programming and management perspective. While I have done all three I am only one man's opinion. There are many, many more of us out there more than willing to help you reach the top.
IF YOU PUT A STATION IN HELVETIA (see below) WHAT WOULD YOU PROGRAM?
Remember the dinner I spoke of above? The question popped up. I had looked at that market, analyzed the population, incomes and other radio services available. Here's my initial take on things:
The station would have to rely on lots of grants versus underwriting, so it would be critical to promote local culture in order to attract grants. In the area, Country is quite popular, so is Southern Gospel and Bluegrass. Americana or Roots music and oldies follow. Demographics are on the older end of the scale which is good.
My thinking is a format hybrid of about 25% classic country, 25% bluegrass, 25% Americana/Roots and the remaining 25% being Southern and Bluegrass Gospel (once an hour), singer songwriter with an emphasis on regional artists, some 'Old Time' and possibly a pop crossover. I'd think a live morning show is crucial and a noon information hour and maybe some jocked music within the 12 to 1 hour. An emphasis would be on reflecting the local culture and heritage of the area mixed with ample, albeit likely very short, local features. For one, I'd run Church news, local weather stats, club news and such. Now, I'm talking X number attended Sunday services and so and so was out sick. Reverend ??? delivered a timely sermon on...At the church this week we have this happening. Weather stats like yesterday's high was 78. Last night's low was 52. We had .12 inches of ran but Bob at Bob's farm had .25 inches of rain in his gauge, the highest in the area. The X club is getting underway with a project on... I think you see where I'm going. I think a show on local history from the historical society would be nice and certainly announcing births, deaths, birthdays and anniversaries would be essential. The station would be as interactive, local and live as the volunteer base can allow. I'd likely schedule two community events an hour to be aired and the weather forecast a couple of times an hour. I'd do this around the clock. So many LPFMs forget that being local means doing so frequently, not once or twice a day.
I was pressed for a sample hour, so here goes:
:00 Community Announcement; Time and Temperature
Songs: He Stopped Loving Her Today - George Jones; On The Divide Tonight - Continental Divide; Jukebox - The Honeycutters; Lodi - Creedence Clearwater Revival
:15 Weather Forecast; yesterday's high and low and rainfall
On The Road Again - Willie Nelson; Too Late To Cry - Alison Krause;
Blue Canoe - Blue Mountain; Westphalia Waltz (by anyone)
:30 Community Announcement; Time and Temperature
Texas When I Die - Tanya Tucker; Who's Crying For You Now - Beth and April Stevens; Everything To Me - Jack Greene; Easy - Commodores
:45 Weather Forecast; yesterday's high and low and rainfall
Live Like You Were Dying - Tim McGraw; In Half The Time It Takes To Cry - Barry Berrier;
The Arrow - The Black Lillies; He'll Use His Wings - New Tradition (Inspirational Song of the Hour).
Keep in mind there is a bluegrass festival and monthly square dances in town. It has a rich Swiss heritage. They've off the numbered highways about an hour travel time to major shopping hubs. What happens here is pretty much ignored except for the tourism end where they get good coverage. If you look up the songs I think you'll find this quite eclectic but quite a bit of variety with emphasis on easily remembered songs (ie: even the unknown become familiar fast).
CHOOSING THE RIGHT COMMUNITY IS CRITICAL
I was talking to Don yesterday. He's a longtime radio guy with about 35 years in small markets to big markets. He looks forward to retirement in the next decade. His dream is small town Low Power FM. He asked what I thought in selecting the right community. Don has lived all over and is open to joining the right community and serving them through radio.
My Dad sparked the discovery of a tiny community. It would be a terrible place to put up a station because it has such a minimal retail community and has way too few people for a station to garner enough support to pay the monthly bills. The town is Helvetia, West Virginia.
My Dad told of working for Cokesbury Bookstore and being at a Methodist Preacher's annual conference in West Virginia. He sold church pews as part of his job and this little town in the mountains had written him. He was less than an hour away and had several hours of downtime. He went to this town with a Swiss heritage, located off the highways. There were flash floods and detours on the way back which might be why he remembers it so well. That got me curious so I found the place online.
I used this as an example in talking to Don. Helvetia is only 60 people and nearby Perkins is only 67 folks. People there have the very thing I look for in a community: pride, unity and volunteerism.
Helvetia has a garden club, a women's club, a men's club, a fair association, a restoration association, a shepherd's association, a community band, library and a Culture group that actually keeps the post office alive and runs a lodge and general store. Remember, just 60 people here and 82 in the zip code!
They do a bunch. In Pickens, there's a Maple Syrup festival, a "Ramp Supper" (ramps are a garlic/onion sort of wild onion), a school alumni annual event, an active cemetery group and there's a fraternal lodge. Helvetia has an annual end of winter event, a ramp supper, a cemetery group (like Pickens that decorates the cemetery for important events), a music festival, a celebration of Swiss heritage, an annual fair, a Christmas festival, a community Thanksgiving dinner, a mountain run event and they run the 10 designated historical buildings and preserve their history. The Community Center is where monthly dances are held.
All of this happens because of about 127 people plus some folks from the neighboring area, maybe 180 folks in all. It is amazing these two tiny places do so much. They even support several churches!
You'd think a LPFM would be perfect here but there's just not the people nor businesses to support it without every other thing they do suffering from a lack of support. In fact, there's a small store in Pickens and in Helvetia. Helvetia has a restaurant with a limited menu. Of all the business done in the area, you'd likely never top $60 a month. I think the Pickens store tops them all in revenue thanks to a single gas pump, and that's only $90,000 a year. If the population was triple or more and the retail community about 15 to 20 times the size, I'd be filing as soon as the next window opens. It is truly a place with exactly what a LPFM needs: a very united community that is active, volunteers and has pride in the spot they call home.
Don and I talked of the place. He had a clear understanding of what I mean about unity, volunteerism and pride as essential in selecting the right community for your small town LPFM. We both know if all those elements are alive, well and widespread among the populace, an LPFM will be embraced, supported and cherished by the town. Simply put, the community will understand the need to preserve the health and survival of the LPFM station that will rank among the other unique features the town offers as an important tool in the quality of life locally.
While it might be years before a new LPFM window opens, the hunt should be on for the right community so you can get your proverbial ducks in a row now.
AN EXCEPTION TO EVERY RULE: When Paper varies from Reality.
Exceptions make you look like you are backtracking on what you say. The truth is, every situation is different are in rare instances the particular situation means you have to regroup.
I was talking to a fellow at a LPFM station in another state. He said his station was supposed to reach about 10,000 people from his farm where he erected his tower. In fact, he has 4 nearby towns if you look at his 40 dbu. In his part of the country, the radio dial is pretty crowded. Once he got on the air, he quickly realized anything outside his 60 dbu was pretty useless. As he put it, "I'm smack dab in the middle of my 36 mile township and I swear, I get a quarter mile out of my township and my signal is overtaken by distant 100 kw. FMs on either side of me. 3.2 to maybe 3.3 miles is as far as I can get. I only reach one town and it's not big. I had my engineer look for a new frequency and even examine if I increased tower height and lowered power if I would get more coverage. I am on the best frequency at my location already. It's the most quiet and any move or height and power adjustment won't give me those other towns. In fact, by the time I reach the outer suburbs of three of the towns, my signal starts fighting it out with the big boys. My facility is doing all it can do. It's been tweaked twice by a head engineer at a major market station I know personally. I'm not really too happy and my plan has gone out the window. Any ideas?"
Yes I do. In fact I have a nearby friend looking for solutions for the same issue. You told me the town you do hit has a newspaper and you have their ad rates. You carefully acknowledged the paper actually serves the nearest smaller town (outside your predicted coverage) and you adjusted for this. You stated most advertisers spend about $5 to $15 a week.
Some further details: The station was to be oldies. Assuming it reached the other towns, there would have been enough folks to make that work. As he has lived there for years, he knows the nuances of the market. To the west is pure farming and dairies, the area that the station actually reaches. To the east are the 3 towns where oldies would have been viable and where most of those farmers and dairy operators shop. You know the farming and dairying population to the west wants classic country and maybe some polkas.
The town reached has a newspaper that grosses about $600 from that town and picks up about $400 from the nearby smaller town and businesses from the bigger towns not reached. Most of the businesses that are in the two biggest towns don't buy this small newspaper because most folks get the small town paper and the bigger town paper that actually covers the whole county.
My advice: You have got what you have got. You likely can't change that. You must revise things to reach what you reach, not just with format but with Underwriting sales. I think you're stuck with Classic Country, like you indicated, with big hits from the 1950s forward (as in they like hearing the stuff their parents were listening to as well) plus the most mainstream of the 1980s forward. That includes some Polka music too. You noted there were several local bands and you were obtaining their recordings.
You have to be super local. That means birthdays and anniversaries, farm and dairy news, local Church, fire department and non-profit group news, announcing Church Services and certainly weather forecasts. Like I suggested earlier, get the bank signed up first because all the other businesses think the bank makes wise decisions and will follow suit. Next, the farm supply and grocery. Think sponsorships on these. Next, look at one a day packages for the little businesses. I'm thinking in the range of $20 to $65 a month.
I'd do a big push in the bigger towns you don't reach. Reserve some sponsorships at about $20 a month for them to receive a mention a day (ie: not a full spot but short mention). Complete an annual calendar with holiday greetings and various seasonal and event oriented things. For example, Halloween, Mother's Day, 4-H, National Dairy Month, and festivals or events, etc. Sell this as an annual plan at say $20 a month to any taker to get, say 20-30 mentions a month...say 2 runs a month of 10-15 spots. Make these business name and address or phone number. Blood Drives, Prom, Drunk Driving and such can be added at certain times. Call on everyone and I mean every business even if it's that lady selling Avon or that guy that builds custom furniture in his garage. They can all afford and get benefit. Even a business generating 8 to 10 thousand a year might buy. You know, as a farm owner yourself, these listeners buy in the bigger towns.
For your programming, contact every mover and shaker in your coverage area. See if they'll host a show, do a weekly report or something with the station. Local voices of people everybody knows means you will change listening habits and identify you as the local station even if they just tell you how much rain fell in their rain gauge.
It is highly likely you might be able to grab up to $2,500 a month doing this, but that is the ultimate. $1,000 to $1,200 a month might be average. You may never realize your hopes of being live and local but you might enjoy serving the 800 or so in your listening area with local radio beyond your wildest dreams.
You've been handed a sack of lemons and not you have to make lemonade. In this instance my prior advice is altered for the specifics of your station and market. As always, finding that common denominator among your listeners and honing in on local with a blanket underwriting plan to hit every business is always the way to go no matter what. See some station observations for another such station.
THE BEAN COUNTER IN ME ... OR INTERNET RADIO LISTENING RESEARCH SO FAR
When I research something I like clear, concise details...no stone left unturned, so to speak. I call it the bean counter in me. The rest of the world doesn't always see counting beans as a priority. But I have gleaned a bit of information.
My quest to determine how well online streaming does led me to what I feel is rational thought. If a streamer is successful it would be a college station. Why? Students are tech savvy. The audience is defined geographically. The programming is by the student for the student. Now, compare that to LPFM. LPFM is mostly defined by a small geographic area and tends to be for the community by the community. So, in my mind, we are similar.
For some college stations knowing how many listen, how frequently they listen and how long they listen at a time, while information they can easily get, is just not that important. For some colleges, much of the station funding comes from the school itself and any advertising they sell is just icing on the cake.
Still, I have answers from some schools. In total, we're talking 262,000 plus students. I started with 52. Most just don't look at the data and simply don't know. Here's my results so far with 22 more schools to go:
Just over 8.5% of the student population listens. Not bad. The key factor is time spent listening, barely under 65 minutes a week.
Such information is important in determining advertising rates and the number of units a business needs to reach all the listeners enough to make an impact.
Pricing is all over the board. One station might have about 160 listening hours a week. That's low, but their spot rate for 20 seconds or less is $10 a month and that gets you a spot on every show. In a reasonable breakdown, about 2.9 cents to reach a set of ears. Another station might get 2,100 listening hours weekly and charge just over $18 a show (shows are 2 hours) to be an exclusive sponsor getting 4 mentions each hour. For reasonable breakdown, that's about 12.5 cents for every set of ears you reach.
Print is even higher. My reasoning here is time spent. Sure it might be a fraction of a penny per person but the typical reader does not read everything and many don't read the ads, only if they're interested. The cost versus reach is larger because print ads are by column inch and you're usually buying several column inches. It is not uncommon to reach $2 per reader on a full page ad, a very difficult thing to ignore compared to a 4 column inch business card ad on a 126 column inch page or even 80 column inch tabloid page. Most radio listeners stay put for the ads. With print, they can turn the page (akin to that 'skip this ad' option online).
And don't get me started on direct mail. I have no true data but when the direct mail items show up, look in the garbage can by the mailboxes.
Back to college streaming radio. As much complaining is about stale radio playlists, the more popular streaming stations at colleges are those with a set format that tend to play quite a bit of the 'same old songs'. Yes, I know radio people try to say that's what gets the listeners and you know what, they're not wrong. Even some alternative stations see double the audience by playing at least 25% safe or same old songs. Familiar is a good thing.
UNDERWRITING PRICING: CONSIDERATIONS
There's two things about advice: it's worth what you pay for it (mine is free) and it does not always apply.
I received an interesting email: "I followed your advice. I got ad rates from all the local media. I know what each media claims to cover. Your advice is to price our LPFM's Underwriting Rates somewhere in the middle compared to other media."
"Here's my problem. I don't have a local radio station to compare. I do have a few newspapers including a shopper and three weeklies, all boasting full county coverage. Our cable TV is shared by 4 communities. So, here's my question. All the newspapers cover much more population than we do and do pretty good in local readership. The cable TV covers about 8 times the population we do. I just don't feel good charging a middle range price."
I see the problem. The per unit rate is for a much larger population than your LPFM will offer. I agree. Your unit rate needs to be adjusted accordingly.
From your email I gather your potential audience is roughly 25%. So your rate should be as well. But let's look further. You said you have watched the papers and looked for ads from businesses in your listening area. That's excellent. You know what they are spending.
It would be wise to design packages for the middle amount the local businesses in your listening area spend each month in any one of the media options. Your big selling point is less expensive rates per impression and the fact the client only pays to reach their trade area. Thus, all of those dollars work for the client instead of some of them.
Thus, with your average client buying 4 column inches a week at $12 a column inch, your weekly package might be, say 2 units a day, 7 days a week at $3 per unit.
I think you see where I am going: your rate per unit is about 25% of the other media but since local coverage area businesses are already spending $48 a week, you offer the affordable $42 a week package.
I may not have mentioned this is a while: when you are cheap, the business expects little and thinks you might even be overpriced. Likewise, if you are too expensive, they expect a lot and you're still overpriced. If you are asking an amount in the middle (not the rate per unit but the average amount a business spends in total for advertising or average dollar amount spent per month on a local media offering) you are perceived as an equal among media offerings.
If I explained this poorly, let's say you go TV shopping. The well known brand names charge, say $500. There's a brand you don't really know and it is priced at $450. Then there is a brand that is $250. If you considered your choices, would you perceive the $250 TV equal in quality and value to the $500 TV? Would you think the $450 TV might be about the same quality and value of the $500 TV? For most, the $250 TV is junk and the $450 TV is likely as good as the $500 TV, just at a $50 savings since the brand is not as well known.
DON'T CONFUSE EXPERIENCE WITH BIAS.
I really don't get the connection but I guess the person that hates radio and if you are in radio, then you are the problem. To me that is like hating the guys flipping burgers at McDonald's per their instructions because they represent corporate America.
Experience is one thing. If I tell you something it is based on real life experience. Yes, I pay attention to research. I use every tool I can to know my potential listener because I have to have as many listeners and dollars as I can get for the station giving me a paycheck for doing that. My point is experience and knowledge is not about your personal likes or dislikes. And like me, you only have some of the answers.
There is no corporate radio here, whatever that is. Any business and that is what radio is, a business, whether a big corporate station or mom and pop, whether commercial or non-commercial, must reach the listening audience with what they want and you need a way to generate the income needed.
I have been blasted and somehow held responsible for the Radio Advertising Bureau and Nielsen ratings. You see, I believe their research, so I'm the moron because somebody read an editorial in a newspaper or an article about skewing results to your favor. If the data is bogus, then the Radio Advertising Bureau and Nielsen have pulled off the biggest scam on earth that affects hundreds of millions of dollars a year, if not well over a billion worldwide each year among thousands of subscribers of this information that directs the advertising dollars for almost every business there is...literally influencing decisions of companies representing billions and billions in revenue. In short, their data, proven in it's integrity and accuracy, literally could topple the economy. The fact is the moron is the person that believes any company sets up a business that intentionally does not provide its customers with what they are paying for and somehow has thousands of satisfied customers actually exists. My mind just can't make that jump.
Here's what I want to get across: experience tells you what to do and it is not your choice but that of your market. A radio station is set up the way the community wants through your good research. If you happen to like the format or overall sound, great, but if not, you have to do what the community wants. In other words, it is a job. You cannot be any more attached to the radio station than the guy at McDonald's flipping burgers.
UNDERWRITING: It's what insurance companies do AND SOME VENTING...
I really take a bunch of flack for saying this but my reasoning is based on face to face radio advertising sales where I'm across the desk from the business decision maker. To make a living doing this, you must learn how the decision maker thinks and what the owner wants (if not the same person). I have learned a thing or two.
Let me vent: There's a certain breed of LPFM operator that thinks people like me are evil. It seems if any business can benefit from associating with them, they should be hung from the public square at high noon. That I encourage the 'benefit' and talking the business owner's language and trying to help them makes me corporate radio at least or a scourge on society. You run your LPFM as you desire and I fully support you in that quest, just don't play Hitler or God by forcing me to be what you choose to make LPFM out to be. The only evil I see is the LPFM operator that says I'm evil for running my LPFM differently although within the rules. Yes, I've seen good and successful LPFM operators blacklisted by such operators and that is the evil I see. Every community is different so every LPFM must be different to survive and serve their community. Enough venting.
The things I learned are basic: a decision maker wants simple and easy. As a sales representative, your job is to bring the plan, easily explained for a fast yes or no. The decision maker has much more to do than mull over an advertising plan. They're rushed, frequently uneducated on how to market their businesses effectively and just simply don't have the time. Your plan must jive with what they need, expect and require. Simply put, you talk their language and show them your plan meets their objectives. In simple terms, you learn what they want and bring it to them on a platter with a pretty bow on top.
You kill the deal when you say no and when you complicate things. When you have to define things, you complicate the message. When you say no, you can expect the same response.
Yes, we have to subscribe fully to Underwriting Rules laid out in vague terms by the FCC but that is OUR problem, not the business decision maker's. You don't have to know all the city and state codes a taxi driver has to abide by to take a ride in a taxi because it is not your problem, it's the taxi operator's. Like the taxi driver, your job is to abide by the rules. It is not the taxi driver's customer that must know the rules. Likewise you don't have to know all the health codes to go eat at a restaurant do you?.
So, do you need to explain Underwriting or even call it that? No! NO! NOOO! You define what you do: "We find our listeners respond when a business simply says what they do, who they are and how to reach them. That is what our messages say without exception." I do not call the message Underwriting or define Underwriting Rules. And what I said is not beating around the bush, a lie or con job. Do your listeners not respond to this sort of message or do they? They do because that is the sort of message you run. It is a message, not Underwriting. You don't have to define what a message is because it is a known word and understood.
Look at what WZMB says: All sponsorship announcements must adhere to WZMB and FCC content guidelines. Sponsorship payments must be collected in full before being broadcast. I like this: plain, simple and easy to digest.
While they do not define the content, did you notice they don't call it Underwriting and they call it 'payment' not donation. Wonder why? Underwriting is what insurance companies do. Payment implies there is a benefit for the business while donation says it is a gift and no implied benefit. If you think Underwriting has no benefit for the business then why the heck are you offering it and creating so much work for your station? Just go out and ask for donations.
I was talking with an LPFM operator yesterday. He says selling Underwriting isn't working out. His station is hurting. I suggested the above information. He responded that not calling it Underwriting was deceptive. He insists on calling it a donation because the business can take a tax deduction (true but it can be an advertising expense and be 100% deductible in the business expense column). He refuses to not explain the Underwriting Rules to potential 'donors'. He said all the online sites for public radio mention Underwriting Rules and they sell Underwriting. He has a point but look at what those percentages are. I have. Pull some 1099s.
Many LPFMs count on Underwriting for the bulk of their revenue. For many public stations, Underwriting is in the 15-20% of revenue range, if that. And even then they tout their audience size and attributes. Why? Because it shows the audience reached can Benefit the business. They buy for the value the audience has to their business just like in selling advertising.
I finally asked him: "So, what you are doing is not working. I'm offering another option to try but you won't consider it. If your plan is flawed, it must change. Are you so scared your client might think they get something back from spending money with your station that you will let your station fall off the financial cliff because of it? It is a good thing when your station is perceived as a valuable tool that can help the local business community. If the business perceives a benefit, it does nor change what your station is. If you are not willing to change what is not working, I cannot help you."
As a footnote: My idea is only one of many. Mine is not the only path. My conversation was with a fellow that had never sold radio before. I gave him my advice. Here's what really irritated me: the attitude was I will not change how I present the station to business owners but the way I'm doing it isn't working so I'd like some advice. My way seemed too much like 'selling' to him. Little does he know, no matter how you dress it up, it is selling: an attempt to convince a person, group or entity to accept the concept, proposal or objective you offer typically through logic or emotion. Why ask when you're not willing to do anything different from what is not working? I wasted his time and mine. Hopefully what I said inspires him to think of a change he can implement that will work for him. I'm not saying he should like my ideas. He wanted me to agree that what wasn't working was still the right path. If it isn't working, it is not the right path and you need to alter your route.
SOME RANDOM REMARKS
A buddy of mine was downplaying stations that let anybody get a shift on a station and pick the format of their show. He said it's merely vanity radio and such stations never have any listeners.
I was a volunteer at such a station in 1975. That station had very, very few listeners. Why? The format was not designed well. It was about covering time, not creating flow. For example, there was a guy reciting his mostly erotic poetry followed by a girl that played Big Band music, followed by a rock program featuring European rockers, then me playing lots of current jazz-fusion, rock and reggae new releases.
The good 'express yourself' station is flow regulated. By this I mean there is carryover from one show to the next. You won't hear classical followed by death metal. Volunteers are arranged where their shows tie together. And in doing these shows, when you choose your volunteers, you are not doing a show all about them but rather for the community at large. In other words, the volunteer isn't the dictator of the show but allows their show to be guided by the audience.
LET'S TALK LPFM PROGRAMMING AND OPERATION. I'm not senile, just repeating what I think is worth saying again. Many boards I have recently spoken with seem dead set on doing programming that will only reach a tiny fraction of the potential audience.
Start with audience size: you are comparing a station serving 2 million folks as a model for your station reaching 40,000. If I can get 2% of 2 million tuned in I have a decent audience. There are enough people to sell Underwriting and get some decent donations. 2% of 40,000 is never going to work. It really is all about the numbers. If you serve 40,000 you need way more than 2% to be viable. You really need to strive for ten times that amount. To go with a format 2% will love is a recipe for failure. The biggest thing to remember here is radio is not about you, but the community. You are the caretaker that provides what the community wants.
Funding is another big sticking point. Fact: you are your only cheerleader. We always do the best we can so we truly believe in what we are doing. We need to realize everyone else sees you as just another station they can choose to listen to. You will not set the world on fire with your plan. Instead, learn your audience and how to reach them, then create a road map to do this for your funding. I suggest Underwriting because it is the most dollars for the least work. And everyone in radio needs to conserve time.
Some really hate to see me write this but Underwriting is purchased by a business for their benefit. It is seen as advertising. When you ask for a donation you are asking a business to part with their hard earned dollars and lose all benefit (that goes to you) they could achieve through better use of that money. If you go buy $200 in groceries you'd gladly shell out $200 but on your way to the parking lot, that Salvation Army kettle next to the person ringing the bell gets nothing to a couple of dollars at most because you are giving away money and the benefit you can get from it.
I want to share an experience. I was working a major market AM station. There were 71 other choices on the dial. We never showed in the ratings. Our format was 'Positive Country'. This is a mix of Christian Country with current country hits (positive lyric tunes). We sold mom and pop businesses. The average sale was $200. By the time I paid gas and time to get the sale, earning my 20% commission, I was in the hole. Worst of all, because a business location's trade area is 5 to 8 miles from their door, I hardly ever had enough listeners close enough to that business to get them to renew advertising. Plainly put, it didn't work. Our audience was too small and too scattered around the metro.
You might call the above experience a real life lesson in being too obscure. For a smaller audience, being familiar and comfortable or as some say, boring, gets the masses, I always say to change radio, you have to change the listener first.
In organizing your station KEEP IT SIMPLE. Anything that complicates or takes time is not a good option. One of my bosses summed it up like this: "a trained money could run this station". That was a really well run station with low stress levels and, might I add, quite successful because we could concentrate on success not the operational plan.
Price yourself accordingly. Much of radio is hype or perception. In fact, I programmed one station and always harped on being #1 and playing the most music. Say it enough and it becomes fact. When I went to the rival FM we spent two years trying to bring down that perception. If you're too cheap you are viewed as not being worth much. Too expensive and you cost too much. See what other media charges and choose middle ground so the business sees you as an equal to other media asking for their dollars.
Radio is about bonding with people. Social media and getting out in the community putting a face to the voice is essential. The more one-on-one people building you do, the greater your success even if you are not truly their cup of tea. When they know you by face and voice you have reached that familiar and comfortable spot. Why does Kraft and Velveeta sell the bulk of macaroni and cheese off the grocery store shelf? It's because they are familiar and comfortable...they are known. Literally familiar and comfortable make up for any imperfections quite nicely.
My most important advice: start small. Never be all you can be. The perception is a station making regular improvements is a success. Even in bad times you need to show positive steps, so by not showing all your cards you keep some reserve to allow you to always improve in good times and bad. If you ever backtrack, you are a failure. Yes, people pick up on that.
GETTING PROGRAMMING FIGURED OUT, Part 2
If you scroll down a few articles you'll see part 1 where WSOV programming is described. I thought I had not saved KRDI, Radio Duvall's programming descriptions Daisy created. It took moving and sorting through a stack of papers that was a few feet high to find the gem. I thought I had not printed it, but my habit of printing what inspires from an online source has helped me retain what might not be found online later on. Here is my favorite programming description allowing each subject to develop at its own pace:
Radio Duvall - KRDI 103.1 Proposed Programming:
HOME GROWN NEWS BULLETIN - Connect with your community in a new dynamic way with news around the valley. Explore what is happening locally and find out goings-on that you never knew existed. CURRENT EVENTS - Event postings of group meetings of all kinds, farm activities, school games and events, and special occasions. Find something to do or learn something new anytime. EDUCATIONAL OFFERINGS - Opening the mic to local schools and teachers, particularly innovative education methods of instruction and learning, academic highlights, local school talent, current sports reports, clubs and events. LOCAL MUSIC - An invitation to explore local talent of all ages from schools to pros. Learn about music, instruments and recording. Live music shows and local musician spotlight. ARTIST'S LOFT - Experience artists among us from tots to adults. Artist spotlight, art in school discovery, tips and how-to's and contests. COMMUNITY THEATER & RADIO DRAMA - Listen and watch local theater productions. Find out what it takes to make a production. Live drama events to see locally. Listen to old time radio dramas. WRITING & POETRY - Invite local writers and poets of all ages to share writer's news, tips, struggles and successes; monthly submissions; monthly writer/poet of the month. DIY/HOW TO PROGRAMS - Watch local folks share their expertise and experience in various areas of interest such as building and remodeling, gardening, landscaping, you name it - what's on demand from the community. CRAFTS AND HOMEMAKING - To share and learn new and traditional crafting and traditional crafting and homemaking, including cooking, canning, sewing, knitting, gift making, gardening, recipes, whatever creative minds can pull out of their hats. HEALTH AND WELLNESS - Focuses not only on eating right, but being right, and what a healthy community resonates; each month to spotlight a health topic, such as the necessity to explicate the science of drug use - especially methamphetamine use, it's systemic problem in our country and how it's affecting many towns - and discuss our community's protective measures.
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY - Keeping the community informed with what's new at our fingertips. What on earth can we explore in the realm of science today? There's new news everyday on the subjects and they play a very important part of our daily functioning. NATURE & THE NORTHWEST OUTDOORS - Explore and learn about the Northwest outdoors, local and beyond, including hiking, biking, fishing, bird watching, skiing, snow reports, camping and more; traveling and touring in the Northwest, exploring wilderness and tips from pros about surviving in nature. THE EQUESTRIAN POST - Hear from local horse lovers on living in the valley with equines with tips and how-to's, events and gatherings, horse rescue, horse caretaking and therapy. ELDERLY WISDOM IN THE VALLEY - An innate educational tool: age old wisdom and experience from our elders. Sometimes it can save us from re-inventing the wheel! HISTORY OF OUR COMMUNITIES - What tales developed or local community roots? To examine the Duvall-Carnation valley area and the whole
RE: Getting Programming Figured Out.
You'll have to scroll down a bit to find my good words about WSOV. I got an email saying: you talk about being familiar and comfortable but it seems WSOV will play music not found on other stations and offer different programming not found on the dial. Am I not being inconsistent?
First, every market is different. There is no perfect formula. With that said, here is what I like about WSOV: music, while not the same old songs, centers on local and regional music. The local population can see these folks locally. The organization has hosted several concert events that feature these musicians. Local and regional can work as part of your music mix if listeners can actually see these musicians at local venues. It builds a bond.
That the station has bothered to survey their community to include as many elements of programming that the community knows and is involved with is a perfect recipe for being a true local station. If you have farmers, topics related to that work. History and local culture works because it is a part of your service area. Such programs make listeners bond with the station.
Of note, so many stations think they can devote an hour a day to some subject which is not feasible. Instead selecting topics and letting them evolve is a better idea. If it is a 1 minute program versus an hour, it doesn't matter. Literally it is the inclusion versus the length that matters. A minute of interest to farmers and gardeners might be short but they will listen and appreciate the local information. A long list of local topics is always great regardless of length. WSOV has that right.
In short WSOV has a plan, a goal and an easy path to success because they have done their homework and know their local audience. When they fire up the transmitter, I think they will become the preferred local favorite.
SALES FROM THE INSIDE
Selling advertising or underwriting is the same. The business owner is bombarded by many forms of advertising their business each week. This includes options you might not be aware of.
Businesses might see representatives from Church, School and non-profit entities that have a newsletter. There is school stadium advertising, for school programs and there is billboards too. Cable TV is out there as is direct mail, door hangers, ads on menus at restaurants, tourism brochures and publications. There is newspaper, special sections, magazines and directories including the phone book. Then there is radio and maybe TV. Then email blasts, websites and even websites for that sort of business. There is telemarketing. And there are some I might have missed. There are many ways to get word out there about your business. In fact, so many you must pick and choose because you can't do them all.
Any advertising, whether underwriting or any other form is always a gamble. With so many options, businesses are overwhelmed by them all and unsure any are truly right for them. This is why educating the business is so crucial. This is why taking the time to know the business and developing trust is so crucial. The fact is not everyone does that.
The venue (aka underwriting on your station) happens when you get face time and are allowed to build a bond. When the business can get to know and trust you, you move to another level above all the folks that only want the sale using as little time as possible.
It is said a great salesperson can sell ice cubes to Eskimos. That's not true. It is said a salesman is like a used car guy conning you to get in to that lemon of a car or the car you don't want. Again, that is wrong.
A great salesman takes time, understands the clients business, makes weekly visits, earns trust and above all has integrity. A great salesperson is one who will not take an order they know will fail, but tries to guide the client to a decision that is best for them. The great salesperson does not sell to get the most dollars from the order. A great salesperson sells the right product for the client at the right price and can show the client how the plan will work.
A great salesperson sells not by their words but the words of the client. They take notes, they listen and respond. They are trusted experts the business owner knows has their back.
Amid all the options, the good salesperson stands out. Standing out gets you the sale. But there is more. A good salesperson, like the business owner, knows all advertising in any form is a gamble. It might work but it might not.
If your option 'might work', what is the business owner's opinion? First, the thinking is "how do I stick a toe in the water before jumping in?" In other words, they might try you but they don't want to put up much money to see. This is where the wheels fall off for many salespeople.
When you offer options in lieu of picking one option for the client you believe is their best option for results, the client always chooses the cheapest option. If you offer say, $200, $150 or $100, the client will always pick $100.
Because of this, you need to know some information. What do they spend in other media, on other options. What do they typically budget for radio? What do they expect in return? What is the message they want to convey?
I stress if they spend $200, $500 or $50, you need to be in the mix, not too cheap, not too expensive.
This gives you some 'equality' in the decision. Let me offer you an example. If you are buying a car and there is a small no frills type car for $8,000 brand new or a mid-range $22,000 car and a $35,000 more upscale car, which is the better vehicle? You'd likely say the $35,000 car because it is the most expensive. By it being so costly, you might think it out of your reach or beyond your budget. Do you not think the $8,000 car is cheap and not very good? If that $8,000 car was $22,000 instead, might you think it was better made and more reliable and long lasting than if it was priced at $8,000? Chances are very good you would. My point is the value and potential return the business owner perceives is directly related to price. Too cheap and you're not worth it. Too expensive and you are not within their budget or in the middle and perceived as just as viable as the other options available.
To drive this home: there is no free lunch. You get what you pay for. The value you get is directly related to the price you paid.
In summary, spend the time to build trust and knowledge to the point you can make your offer logically to the client. Price yourself in the middle range and never give them choices. If the amount is too high, you can always go lower but if it is too low, you can never go higher. And more than anything, you are there to be a trusted friend of the client. Sure you might be selling underwriting, but sales is sales. Some criticize my attitude of wanting to benefit a client but anybody who has done direct business to business sales will tell you what motivates a client to part with their dollars is the benefit they get. Some of my critics act as if I am Satan himself for wanting those dollars to benefit the client. They, I can assure you, have no experience selling. Donations is not sales. Make a sign and stand on a street corner. You might be more successful that way. I'm not trying to be rude here, but donations are always for small amounts because a donation means you give away all benefit.
ALL IS NOT EQUAL
There's the old joke, if you think man was created equal, then you've never been in a men's locker room. Your LPFM is the same way. There are times when more people listen than others. We all know this. This does beg the question, do we lose selling exclusive sponsor packages?
If your idea is selling one show to one sponsor, it can really cost you. You will soon discover some shows are more attractive and some less attractive to potential sponsors. The result is you will never find a sponsor for each show. Likely a show a business wants might be taken by another sponsor and the remainder of programs just aren't a right fit.
There is the other consideration: only a fraction of your audience listens to any given show. The result is the sponsor reaches only a fraction of your already small coverage area with any given show. Take your best shot by making the client known to all your listeners.
Might you consider multiple sponsors per show or better yet, sell general underwriting that introduces the business to all of your listeners over time? My point is, you might have 4 businesses wanting to sponsor one show but you sell it to only one sponsor leaving 75% of the potential income to go somewhere other than your station. Even a general underwriting sponsorship can allow for a guarantee of one unit playing in a specific show the client likes.
I'm not talking greed here. What LPFM is making money like the Monopoly Man? This ain't Park Place. Heck, Baltic Avenue might be beyond our means. Almost every station needs more, so let it happen. Create scenarios where shows can be shared by sponsors and take your best shot at keeping a sponsor by letting them be known to all your listeners.
To do anything else is to almost guarantee you will have less support than you could. We all know those dollars make the station more viable and in a better position to serve the community more. After all, money is the tool to reach your goals, not a source of greed and extravagance for the LPFM since the cash goes back in to make you better.
EARLY REPORT ON INTERNET ONLY RADIO
As regular readers know, I have been researching streaming stations. In my mind the college streaming station is a better option for a successful model for several reasons: the demographic is very tech savvy, geographically confined making it simple to build awareness and such stations are programmed by the student for the student in most all cases.
What scant information I had found was very discouraging but I persisted. I have but a few figures to combine to establish the data since some schools are not in session for another month.
Of all the schools I have data on, just 8 and one other for more of a control factor, the results are not good. Two of the eight, and this is important, have very good numbers. Oddly, these are formatted stations: a classic rock and a Alternative/Classic Rock/CHR hybrid of recognizable hits. These two sound like any over the air station running a structured format. One does traffic and weather as well.
Here are the numbers meshed: on average 8.5358395% of the students listen (taking enrollment versus unique clicks to listen). Time spent listening is 62.16461179 minutes a week. To put this in perspective, a college with 10,000 students would produce roughly 854 listeners and about 884.38 listening hours a week.
I have to mention the two structured format stations. They had a big bearing on this total: One of the stations averaged 80 minute average listening sessions from a total monthly clicks to listen at roughly 75% of the total enrolled. This is almost double the average of the remaining schools. This tells me a more mass appeal, structured format can double listening.
As I have stated all along, local is king. In a control factor, a strongly local option increased listening sessions by 225% and brought weekly time spent listening to 275% of the average station. In addition, unique listeners accounted for about only about 8% of the coverage area (the area the streaming station considers local). At most points this station enjoys about 165 listeners at any given time.
I must say none of these stations took a 'build it and they will come' attitude. Each of the stations are quite active. If there is an event, the station has a presence. All the stations work hard to create awareness.
As for the worst of the bunch, 20 seconds per student in total weekly listening hours. Since the average session is 40 minutes every other week, we are talking 1 in 60 students bothers to listen about 20 minutes a week. Second on the list was 33 seconds per student per week in total weekly listening hours.
Average listening seems to be about 40 minutes. The worst was 3 minutes and 18 seconds. Some averaged about 2.5 hours a week per unique listener. 2.5 hours compares to over the air radio as pretty average.
You might wonder what this has to do with LPFM. Many LPFM stations see priorities as having a website and streaming especially to reach areas where building penetration blocks the over the air signal. My question is what can we expect? Where is the starting point? On these early findings, with more schools and stations yet to go, my initial thought is the smallest streaming package, say 10 listeners at a time, is a good starting spot.
Based on these numbers, I have to question Sound Exchange's cost and labor you have in reporting against the benefit of streaming. What are you really paying per listener? Are listening numbers so low they cannot be sold? Is it better to use banner ads and utilize podcasts of local features instead of streaming? At this point, that looks like a better option to start with..
HOW IMPORTANT IS NEWS, WEATHER & COMMUNITY CALENDAR?
YES! The question pondered the number of people getting information from multiple platforms as well as standard broadcast media and whether the LPFM is simply providing a redundant source.
I get what you are saying but not everyone does this. And in our busy lives, we might not have the time to pull up several sources to get the information you need. The email said getting the several sources to be available to read on your phone or whatever seems to make local information not necessary for the LPFM. It is not that it is easy, but that many people don't want to take the time.
To see what I mean, look at the retail world. At one point in time most every retail outlet was pretty much specialized. The retail market changed. Somebody invented the convenience store so you didn't have to run down to the typical grocery store to buy commonly needed items.
Grocery stores began carrying more non-grocery items. Places like Walmart and Target allowed shoppers to buy much of what they needed under one roof. Shopping malls brought together many shops for nothing more than convenience.
I think you are seeing where I am headed. The average TV shopper today is more than likely going to a store that sells more than TVs although those stores are still around.
So, although the material: news, weather and community announcements are available at several spots, placing all of it conveniently on your LPFM is not fruitless. People like convenience. People like things to be easy. If you ask, they'd rather get all the want at one spot, not 5 or 6.
If nothing else, local information identifies you as local and local wins listeners. It also offers some of the most attractive to businesses underwriting opportunities. When I worked commercial sales in radio, the news, weather and community calendar sponsorship was always limited to a few clients and typically was sold out.
Compared to the other options at attracting Underwriting, nothing compares to sponsoring these features. Compared to other programming, nothing makes you the local station like local information.
Redundant? Yep. Essential for your LPFM? My opinion is not just yes but heck yes.
MATCHING LIFESTYLE TO LISTENING
One of the things I learned early on in radio programming was creating a flow for the listener. We looked at every element of programming matching it by popularity and listening trends.
If you'll think about it, we are creatures of habit. The clock certainly has a bearing on our activities. If we have to be somewhere at a certain time, most choose to be a few minutes early rather than late. That reflects with radio. I think you will find more listeners are found at the top of the hour and the bottom of the hour. Likewise, the last few minutes of each half hour would have fewer listeners.
We know we need to keep listeners tuned in as long as possible. Our natural reaction is to take the most popular and well liked elements of an hour's programming and place this at the top and bottom of the hour, moving down the list until the least popular elements find themselves placed in the last few minutes of the half hour.
All of this is logical because of the way we function in society. If you are meeting up with a friend, it might be 'stop by about 8' not, say 7:36 or 7:52. To reach your destination by 8, you prepare and determine the time needed to arrive by 8. If working or going to school, you might find work ends at 5 or 5:30. Some schools choose, say 3 or 3:30 for quitting time. This means for many, you are tuning in the radio at about the top of the hour or bottom of the hour. Chances are you are at your next destination in less than 30 minutes, so the last few minutes of the half hour is when you arrive at the next destination resulting in fewer listening to the radio.
In rated markets, the way audiences are measured overrules the above. In PPM markets, you want to start your commercial breaks just before to just after either or both :15 and :45 past the hour.
Outside the PPM markets, the paper diary is still used, so the middle quarter hour formula still stands: any less popular elements are in the middle 5 minutes of the quarter hour. In order of most listeners per quarter hour, divide the clock in quarters: :00-:15, :15-:30, etc. From most to least listeners the quarter hours are: #1, #3, #2 and #4. This means more listen in quarter hour 1 from :00 to :15 and the fewest in quarter hour 4 from :45 to :00.
The reasoning for doing things differently in PPM and paper diary markets is due to how listening is measured. The paper diary trick is to place an element some of the audience doesn't want in the middle 5 minutes of the quarter hour but promote something that makes them want to come back to you. Since you only need a listener for 5 minutes to get credit for a listener for 15 minutes, you can increase your listener numbers if you work it right. For example, if you listen from :40 to :50, tune out when the news comes on, but return at :55 and listen to :05 when commercials start to play. I have, on paper, an hour of listening in 20 minutes (5 minutes in 4 quarter hours: :40-:45; :45-:50; :55-:00 and :00-:05). Yes it is risky but it works.
UPDATE ON ONLINE RADIO LISTENING
The focal point: college radio that streams exclusively or has audio on a cable TV channel or 'leaky cable' option as well. Some have a part 15 transmitter too although the part 15s are not delivering listeners at all. College students are tech savvy, comprise a micro-market like LPFM and can be easily marketed to because of geography. College radio is, in almost all cases, radio for the college by the college. It seems an ideal scenario to do a study, at least to me.
Response is minimal but then again it is summer. For some schools this is down time before the next semester. It's too early to gauge. The purpose of the update is to share what I have discovered so far. It is not too impressive.
Is online college radio a success? More often than not, I'd say not even close. While I do not have the data to get 'actual' listening, the lack of data led me to look for alternates to size things up. Nobody states two missing sets of numbers: average listening session (ie: time spent listening at one time and the number of those sessions; how many unique visitors versus total visitors).
These online stations sell commercials or underwriting on their streaming audio. In radio we look at the number of listeners and the amount of time they listen at a time to figure out pricing and how many units are needed to reach all listeners over a given time. For example, a station with 30,000 listeners but an average of 300 per quarter hour means the listener only tunes in a few minutes at a time. Likewise a station with 30,000 listeners but 600 listening per quarter hour means this station can charge double the rate per unit and advertisers only need to buy half the number of units to reach all the audience compared to the 300 per quarter hour station.
But let's look at partial data: school 1 has about 49,000 students. The college station is online only. The station only gets about 500 visitors to the station's website per week. To be overly optimistic, I think, in determining listening, I 'guessed' all 506 tuned in 2.5 hours a week. I got that 2.5 hour figure by looking at over the air radio stations doing an Alternative format across the nation. This is the closest format to the average college station. Of those broadcast stations, the average over the air listener spent 2.5 hours a week with the station. 506 visitors times 2.5 hours is 1,265 a week. To compare to radio we divide by 7 days a week, then by 18 hours (6am to Midnight) and again by 4 to get the number listening per quarter hour: 2.51 listeners. Out of almost 49,000 students. At best the station has a .1 or a tenth of a percent of the students listening.
School 2, a smaller one, around 33,000 students. It's college station is exclusively online. One person says they have about 4,000 listeners a month. Asking further, this is the total number of 'clicks to listen'. Another person said "It depends on the day but over the 7 day week, we get about 450 'clicks to listen' per day. If we considered each 'click' as unique listeners in a day and multiplied it by the hours per week in the above paragraph, we get 1,125 listener hours a week. If we assume the 4,000 monthly, we get 2,307.7 listening hours. Let's use the larger listening hours figure: just under 4.6 listeners per quarter hour using the formula in the paragraph above. If that is about 923 visits a week at 2.5 hours, assuming unique listeners, that's about 2.8% of the students listening.
School 3 has about 30,000 students and the source says 4% tune in. That's not too bad, huh? Running the numbers at 2.5 hours a week, I get 3,024.8 listening hours weekly for a 6am to Midnight quarter hour of 6 listeners.
School 4 is a small school with just over 1,700 students. The staff there says about 20% of the students listen to the online station. That's impressive! Still numbers are low. At 2.5 hours a week, we get 867 hours or 1.72 listening in any quarter hour 6am to Midnight.
School 5 has just over 43,000 students. They commissioned a survey. While the station is online, they are the audio on an on campus cable TV channel. They have 1,150 listeners. In ratings, that is roughly a 2.7 share. It is not that rosy. 78% listen via cable TV. 22% listen online. A factor is like many schools underclassmen must reside on campus. The number on campus is 5,000 of this 43,000. With the skewing this detail delivers, you can understand why the manager says they think only about 1/2 of 1% listen even though the station is at all college events with a booth and does a midweek entertainment venue on campus each week. They admit they can charge almost 7 times their commercial rate to be one of the businesses hosting the weekly venue. That, the manager said, says they get more students at the venue than will ever listen to the station.
Station 6 is a school of 18,000 that is exclusively online with a part 15 nobody tunes to (on AM). The manager has tried to get more listening by welcoming in other media. They get a coach to do a Q & A talk show on school sports and the newspaper editor does a twice a week program. Still only 1 in 200 students bothers to listen. He has almost as many students on the station as listeners! The station promotes constantly...banners, booths, at all college functions, etc. Nothing is working so they are content to just serve those that do listen to the best of their ability. And they sound good.
Station 7 has 11,000 or so students but the station, exclusively online, only gets about 920 total visits a month from the USA and they don't know how many are merely the curious or actual students, they say. They do almost 14 hours a day, 7 days a week of live shows. That's under 1.9% if all those USA visitors were local. They are well funded, handing out swag that people keep and use. They are at every college event and even carry school sports. If they were an on air station, you'd say they do a great job at building awareness. By quarter hour, using our formula that's about 1 listener a quarter hour.
Other smaller schools claim more listeners by being heard in a common area than any other listening source.
So, what's the deal? I asked. Here are some thoughts: 1) College students, like online radio listeners, use a mobile device for 95% of online radio listening. Mobile devices use data and data costs money. You pay to listen. Many students are on a seriously tight budget. 2) Mobile devices, unlike the radio itself, can be used to do many things. Listening to a radio station is usually not at the top of the list. 3) College students already have listening habits. Unlike radio that is geographically bound, online radio isn't. If you were listening to Pandora before college began, you'd likely listen to Pandora once college began. With over the air radio that is not an option in most cases, so with over the air radio you have to develop new listening habits. 4) Internet radio options are many times more infinite than the finite radio dial that has a limited number of options. This means it is harder to amass a decent listening audience in number when there are tens of thousands and some say over a hundred thousand options online.
You say wait a minute, what about these online stations with a million listeners? What about Pandora, iHeart, Spotify, iTunes, etc.? These are what I call big dollar stations. They had investors and pro marketing teams that devised a plan to establish awareness and had the budget to do so. In radio, this would be the big 50,000 watt corporate owned AM that can be heard in 20 states at night and the whole state during the day and a heritage stretching 80 years compared to the brand new 100 watt LPFM in a tiny town in a valley at a negative height above average terrain.
So where does that leave us? At this point, lots of missing real numbers and lots of data we intentionally use to create what is likely a better case scenario. Obviously assuming a website visitor is also a listener is being very optimistic. To assume online listening is the same as over the air in time spent listening is potentially very optimistic. It appears online is not the success we feel it is except for a few big dollar entities.
I must admit, over the air radio bolsters online listening but not in anything more than very slight numbers. If a station had 10 listeners a day and the LPFM signs on, that listening might jump to 11 in comparison. Radio is still free, accessible and a device used for only one purpose. You can take a phone call with the radio on.
With so little data so far, I think it gives us pause to weigh the cost and labor involved with streaming against the benefit we'll get from it. Maybe it might be best to start with doing short podcasts of weather, community calendar and some talk programming and post it on the LPFM station's website.
Let's think costs: Sound Exchange, ASCAP, SESAC, BMI licensing, hosting service. Let's say you have 4 listeners at a time. Can you sell that? Will those people contribute? Online contributions are lower than over the air ratios, so a couple might. Perhaps it might pay your hosting.
The next question is, you're talking college online radio, not LPFM and not over the air. Right, I am. That data is easily mined. Looking at ratings I see one station with 6,200 listening over the air each quarter hour. They have 331,000 listening a week at 135 minutes a week. Their stream looks like this: 700 per quarter hour. 42,700 weekly listeners at 135 minutes a week. Another station with 13,400 per quarter hour listening over the air has 500 per quarter hour online. The on air has 361,000 weekly listeners tuning in 270 minutes a week. Online that's 31,000 listening 120 minutes a week. A third station has 13,200 per quarter hour on air listeners compared to 700 online. 330,000 listen weekly over the air but only 19,000 online. The over the air listening is 270 minutes a week per listener and a respectable 255 minutes per week for online listeners.
So how does this compare? I looked at the averages above. It seems online and over the air listening are similar enough in length, enough for me to justify my use of the over the air listening to the online listening per week. Overall, it is reasonable that for every 11 listeners you have over the air, you will have 1 online listener. Thus your online audience would be 9.0834% of what your over the air audience is. And that is with extensive promotion to build awareness locally.
Let's play: you have a LPFM with 20,000 in your listening area. You think you can reach 10% or 2,000 listeners a week at 2.5 hours a week, let's say. You might expect 182 online listeners a week at 2.5 hours. Thus, 5,000 over the air listening hours compared, say 455 listening hours online. Is that 9% worth all the hard work and costs?
REQUEST: If you stream, would you share data? As you can see I keep data anonymous in what I post. Useful data: Length of time reference (week, month, etc.), total website visitors, number of total listening sessions, total number of unique listeners and the average length of each listening session. Just hit contact me and I will be very grateful!.
A QUERY ABOUT THE POST BELOW
If a school or student group chooses to start an online station what is your advice?
I'm no expert but like everyone else I have an opinion. First, you need to determine the reason you are doing this. If it is simply to have a bit of fun, the advice doesn't matter because like any other campus activity, it's health and survival will depend on participation. If there is participation, it works. If interest is lost, it fades away, a natural transition in life.
If the purpose of the school or student group is to provide a source of entertainment and information for the school, then the survival becomes a more serious venture. If it is to actual learn a bit about radio, then the focus changes entirely.
I have always been on the fence about a college station wanting to teach radio that allowed people to do shows without regard to format. On one hand, your format is dictated in real life radio. You don't do what you want. Is it wrong to force this on a college station? No. On the other hand, is it bad to let new broadcasters have a little fun before it becomes all about money? No. I would propose a happy medium. Broadcasters do two shows a week: each an hour. One is their flavor of radio. The other hour is the structured format. That makes half the station structured with specialty shows if the person chooses to do one, earned only by jocking an hour of the structured format. This way you get to play and still experience the ability to follow a format.
The real problem with school stations is funding. Typically you get some start-up dollars from some fund somewhere (student or school fund) and then you continue to rely on it to survive. Life lesson: nothing lasts forever. If you really want to be a broadcaster you need to 'get' the money side. Money is everything because it is the tool that keeps you on the air. If you don't create a plan to fund yourself there will come a day the funding goes away.
Your 'money' plan must be complete. That you hold some events that might get you a few dollars if it works out or asking students to donate are sketchy plans. The better, more constant dollars are in commercials or underwriting because there is a business community that always benefits from the student population. They are motivated to support the cause because they get a benefit and they are willing to offer more cash at a time to fund you. In other words, that hard work is an easier path, if such a path exists. Plus, it teaches the lesson that the business supporter must be kept happy. It does not influence as much as build an appreciation and a responsibility to keep results happening through doing your best to attract listeners. It makes you a better station by paying attention to the audience because the audience is the results needed for the business to continue to help fund the station. In essence, the business helping out means you are on the right path. Businesses do not dictate programming but challenge you to do your best.
And for that commercial or underwriting plan, it needs to be simple, clear, detailed, priced accordingly and detail the advantages. In many cases a mere mention works. The plan needs to reach as many students as possible to offer value, so sponsoring a show versus a plan where the spots play at different times is critical. Never offer a show sponsorship for this reason. Only a fraction of the students listen to a certain show. You need the spot to air enough to be heard by as many as possible. Once a week or once a day is not enough. At minimum 2 per day to say 4 a day works best because listeners are always changing and tune in at different times.
You need some format standards. You need something rather predictable. We like to know what we are getting as humans. If you go to that barbecue place, you expect barbecue but what if you showed up for barbecue and all they sold was ice cream? You'd be let down. Your format needs to be something that is the same today as tomorrow. Sure, the jocks might change but the format is consistent. This way listeners will always come back to listen more because they know what they'll hear.
Study up a bit on FCC Rules and make your on air talent know the basics. If they are thinking radio for a career, the FCC Rules are part of what you need to know. Invite people from other stations. Do not just ask DJs to come out but people in sales and management too. Give the students a well rounded knowledge. This is important. I was a DJ for years and to be honest, it wasn't until I experienced working in other parts of radio did I get a clue. The DJ is usually pretty well shielded from the rest of the operation. In fact, at most stations, sales and DJs are on opposite ends with management in the middle when it comes to station layout in order to minimize influence on each other. I don't get that, but it is reality.
Find a way to make it fun but a learning experience with real life path to funding through being self sufficient. That will create a lasting entity.
AN ATTEMPT AT KNOWLEDGE: Internet Streaming
There are many things I do not know. A teacher once said for all you learn, there is an ocean more yet to learn.
The subject is Internet Only Radio. Why study this? For many of us it will be the start of the LPFM journey and accompany the LPFM thereafter. We all feel the need to stream and establish a hang out for listeners online. But what do we know? For me, it is painfully little.
I am centering my research on College Internet Stations. I want to include those that also are available via part 15, closed circuit, cable TV audio and even with an over the air outlet.
My thinking is to center on simply college online streaming stations that have no other carriage. To do that with some parameters, one needs to see how 'the other half lives'. One needs a reference. For example, if you're poor, you're poor compared to what?
I'm fresh in this journey. I have random data that cannot easily be connected like a coloring book where you move dot to dot to complete a picture. It's always data that has no meaning without more data.
I began with Streaming Data, a report of the industry designed to attract ad dollars. I have no doubt it is accurate in what it shows. In a nutshell it says: 176.5 million Americans has listened to an online stream, listened to a Podcast or a YouTube Video in the past month. Time spent with some form of online streaming content, podcasts and YouTube accounts for 13 hours and 19 minutes a week. That's 799 minutes compared to 806 for over the air radio. Radio reaches 91%. Internet streaming, about 57.3%.
It is a given fact that online listeners switch stations/sources much more often than they do over the air radio. In radio listeners tune to about 5 to 8 stations weekly. Online, we know the figure is greater but nobody wants to say. Given the 'trial and error' tendency of online listeners, how many of those station changes were made in less than a minute? In other words, you pull up the stream and don't like what you hear, so you move on. We know online radio is measured in 30 second increments while over the air radio is measured in 15 minute increments.
This begs the question: of all the clicks to listen, how many are 'fishing' for what they want to hear and do not find it with your stream? How does that affect Time Spent Listening and how does this skew your data to demonstrate total listening sessions that is not entirely accurate? Nobody says how long their listeners spend with a station in a single session.
I'm met with data like 'total visits' and 'total webpages'. Neither have anything to do with actual listening. People visit websites and never click the online stream.
I see "350 online listeners". That really says little. Do they listen once a month, daily, and how long per session? How many are the 'fishing' samplers that tune in less than a minute. And where are these listeners? In your backyard or in China?
One station says they have 60 listeners at any given time. This is as close to 'real' as I have seen. Still, without more information, that figure is pretty useless. If the typical listener session is 5 minutes or 5 hours really tells the story. For example, if you have 40,000 students and you get 60 at a time, do you reach 2% or 20% of the target audience. If I'm going to help finance the station by promoting a school event or advertise a business, how many times must I repeat the message to be effective?
One college with 48,825 students says the online station website got 15,158 visits over the past school year. Total page views was 33,189. Since the school year is 30 weeks (two 15 week semesters), you're at about 500 visits per week. How long does each visitor listen? How many listeners click to listen? If I pay your $4 rate per spot for a spot a day Monday through Friday all 30 weeks, what is my reach? My $4 spot buys how many ears?
I rather liked how TealTV at the University of North Carolina Wilmington gave a more clear picture: You can sponsor a program that airs 6 times on The Learning Channel and 30 times on Channel 15 over a two week period. You get a 5 second billboard going in and a 5 second billboard going out for $50. They say 34% watch the program. With 14,570 students, this means my $50 reaches about 4,954 viewers or about 138 folks every time it airs. In other words, I pay about a penny to reach a person with both an opening and closing mention. It is a real good deal and nicely detailed. I know what i am getting for my dollars and that is the key. This is a dots connected set of data. Thank you for your completeness.
WIUX at Indiana University has some nice details but still leaves the picture unclear. Someone did a great job detailing when most listening happened (on Mondays) and provides data on listeners to the sports broadcasts. They clearly state: 610 daily unique listeners; 4,266 weekly unique listeners and 18,285 monthly unique listeners. Nice data indeed! The part missing is how many are listening only to sports and regular programming. The length of the listening session is absent and certainly needs to be divided to show sports broadcasts and regular programming. Buying 30 spots a week reaches how many ears for that $189 investment?
Here is where I must guesstimate or plug in numbers not known. A streamer shared his data. He gets 2 listener sessions a month with an average of 89.113 minutes per session. Over the air radio in the same format averages 2.5 hours a listener per week. Do I plug either number in for 'listener session' time? Indeed either instance is not real life if I plug these numbers in to the data provided.
Just as perplexing, one college of nearly 12,000 was encouraged by having 1,000 hits to their website in a 31 day month. Most from from the USA but I wonder how many were from the college population. And how many actually clicked to listen? If I bought their package of 100 spots for $200, how many ears might hear those spots? Naturally that pub or pizza place just a block off campus is a likely advertiser but does the online stream reach enough ears to make the investment worth it?
Does streaming radio actually support itself if the college drops funding? I think it would fail. Looking at rates charged I can see a rate card is not through out very well. One school makes the business provide the spot and pricing is by length, anywhere from $10 for 15 to 20 seconds to $30 for 51 to 60 seconds. There's only 1,734 students at the college. If I were to want to advertise so bad I had to write and produce the spot myself, how many ears will hear it out of the 1,734? Every college streamer should be prepared to go it on their own. The one thing I have learned in life is nothing is forever.
A college of 30,000+ students with a streaming station as their only 'radio' option for campus radio will sell you $12 spots if you buy more than 40. The spots have to be Public Service Announcements. It is a very cool idea with the business, say promoting assigning a designated driver before you go out to party Friday night. Or for $60 I can sponsor a show. But how many hear my message? If I sponsor a weekly show who do I reach? No data is given.
As was shared with me, a 2 year college, commonly called a junior college, with 16,500 students ran an online station a few years before getting an over the air signal. The station is finely programmed and is doing just as fine when it comes to college information being aired. Online, a good day was 15 listeners. With over the air radio as an option, the stream has not seen much increase. It seems the station promoted itself but in their defense, such a college does not have on campus living quarters and most students are local and some, even more so than a 4 year college, part-time or adults going back to take some classes. Still, fewer than 1 in a thousand listening daily online really says something.
I have seen more than one college online station complain about not making an impact no matter what they did. They all worked hard to build awareness and I find no fault in anything they did. In other words, they promoted themselves well. Two specifically said 1 in 200 students listened. One school boasted 4% of the student body for their reach. Nobody could say how frequently or how long any of these students listened.
So, if the internet streamers have so many listening, where are they? Back to the study I mentioned. It seems Pandora (54%), iHeart Radio (11%), Spotify (10%) and iTunes (8%) are the preferred listening choices. The percentages are those who claim to listen, not that they listen to that choice exclusively. That leaves over the air radio that enjoys reaching 91% of America to market their online presence and then every other online streamer out there.
By my take, the online listener saying they listen to the above choices, while certainly not entirely accurate, would make me surmise 83% of online streaming is to these choices. What I find interesting is Podcasts and YouTube are not detailed. In one study Podcasts and YouTube represent 16.5 million people although another study said 46 million listened to a Podcast each month...well the first 3 to 5 minutes of a 60 minute podcast by their survey. It seems very few listen beyond the 5 minute mark.
63% say they have watched YouTube either for listening to music or discovering new music.
So, you can see I have some random data. While all of it is good, it is incomplete. Like the comedian imitating a sportscaster: "and we have this partial score: New York 7". The information to connect to the next dot isn't there.
So, I have to ask if we have a handle on how to sell online radio? Is the traditional radio mode right? If you're online, does it make sense to have ads on the website instead of on the stream itself? For certain, few listeners will pay to listen compared to over the air radio because chances are very, very good your flavor of internet radio is duplicated over and over on the internet's proverbial infinite dial. Indeed, it's radio's advantage in having a finite number of choices on the air.
Is it that internet radio will never grow until there is free WiFi everywhere? The study on internet streaming radio noted 95% listen on a mobile device. Does that not mean the listener is judging content more harshly because each minute they are eating up more data they're paying for. Is this why few listeners donate: the double dipping effect: pay for data and pay to listen? Does listening suffer simply because a mobile device can do so much more than simply stream a station yet a device called a radio cannot. When one grabs that mobile device or jumps on the computer, what number on that list of things you can do is streaming an online radio station?
I have had virtually no luck in getting any responses to my inquiries. I'm hoping to do better this time. I refuse to believe online streaming is so unpopular among a group of people that are tech savvy like college students. And with college online streaming stations promoting themselves well, providing programming students enjoy and keeping students updated, why don't they listen in droves. I'm hoping to learn. If the around 30 I contacted would respond, I'd be walking on air!.
I am discouraged by one school with some 50 students involved with 35 different shows a week opting to stop streaming and only place the station over the speaker system at the student activity center. Another online steaming station held a fundraiser netting only $16. The school declined to pay their bills. Now the lobby area off from the studio is the only place they are heard. Another station had to give up the online stream, going back to the carrier current FM. The manager was real excited about the station moving to a new hall just off a lounge where people could hear the station if they left the door open. To this manager, it was the station's saving grace, noting many had done a show each year and never got a single call or mention from a classmate. I guess when a student goes off to college their old listening habits carry over to college life, leaving the college streaming station with few and I mean extremely few listeners.
Certainly if I can learn through getting more real life data I can see how effective an online stream and an online presence can be for a LPFM station. At the current time I have to think it is a bunch of work and expense for a bunch of nothing. I hope to be changing my opinion.
GETTING PROGRAMMING FIGURED OUT
If you have ever read the proposed programming lots of groups included in their filing with the FCC, you know they haven't a clue. They are very well intended but just not anywhere close to realistic. When I see a description that clearly lays out what a station will be, I like to point that out. I must admit with great dismay I did not print out Daisy's initial description on Radio Duval's website. It was so well thought out, I really regret not doing so. Here's one for WSOV that is as close to perfect as you can get. Notice they let the elements be without saying how much time is devoted to each, but rather the sum of the broadcast week will focus on these in the amount that reality provides:
Now my comments: None. There is nothing I can add. It's just right.
DEFINING COMMUNITY RADIO: A REALITY CHECK
For me, there are two types of Community Radio, dependent on how you define the word community. One is where a station chooses to super-serve a segment of a community or the community as a whole by consensus. The other meaning is radio by the community at large.
A segment of a community might be a school, college, church or any other population segment that makes up a community. There are some that choose to target the community at large. In each instance these stations look at the segment of the population or the community at large and look at what most everyone in that group likes. Then they add local information and 'imaging' to offer the listener a locally focused product.
It is important to point out that programming by consensus is more about what you exclude than what you include. This gets a bit tricky. There is certainly an art to this that one will pick up over time, a trial or error thing.
To take this to a human perspective, being male and attracted to women, I will try to give this comparison a shot. As a high school kid two fellow students were hired at the fast food restaurant I worked. One of the girls was a beauty and had been graced with the body as well. One was attractive but no beauty with a pretty average build. Working with the two, I noticed the beauty became a bit less so over time. Her personality didn't match her outward beauty. The attractive, much more average looking girl was such a kind and thoughtful person. I noticed she had certain quirks, if it was an expression or whatever that just came across as heart-melting cute. There was a sincerity and genuine caring that she displayed. She worked harder, complained less and seemed to be less fragile as the beauty. As you might be able to figure out here, it was the more average girl that was special because of what she was made of. What she did made her a much better fit for me. And the other guys at the place pretty much felt the same way.
In the definition of format, the more average with a created local personality tends to get the attention and the loyal listener even though there are many average to above average radio stations out there. What makes the station shine is how it acts, what it does, it's little quirks and expressions that identify it as the local station.
Let's look at the music you play. The music might be the same or similar to the same as those so called 'boring' stations in the corporate world. Guess what, they have listeners and make money whether you like that statement or not. We tend to put too much emphasis on music. Sure, add your 'oh wow' songs to the mix sparingly, but if you are comfortable and familiar and then add local, you have a winner the community will embrace whether that is a segment or the community at large.
You are programming by consensus. That means you take what some like and some dislike, set it aside and center on what almost every person in that group likes. If half the group doesn't like it, you don't play it. This is what I mean by 'it's more about what you don't play than what you play'.
Early on in my radio career my station manager said the cruelest thing to a program director and morning show guy: "All the programming and music is just the filler between the important stuff". It was a very true statement and that's why it was cruel. All the hard work you put in on programming, the music and creating an entertaining show takes a backseat to the local information and the stuff that keeps the bills paid. Think of it this way, the land matters but the water doesn't and you're a bridge builder.
If you ever wondered why a lone station in a county chooses country music when there are five other country stations already on the dial and three of them are from the big city and their presentation is ten times better than yours, it is because of the information, the local stuff, that makes the format work. Simply put, the station sought out the music people like best and then created a recipe seasoned with lots of local information to make the listener choose the local station.
The other type of community radio is radio for the community by the community. Some call it by a negative term, vanity radio. Simply put it is a revolving door of volunteers that show up and do their own recipe of radio for a couple of hours each week and turn the microphone over to the next person. This works in the right communities and fails miserably in others. You need to know your community well to determine if this will work. I must warn you, more often than not, your station will live paycheck to paycheck, so to speak. There's few exceptions. This is not to say the other way is a cash cow either. The difference is this format is serving a smaller, more loyal audience while the other breed of community radio tends to garner more listeners that are usually less intently loyal.
Not programming by consensus can get scary. To really get it to hit home, take a look at college radio, typically radio for the college by the college. Many colleges are selling their broadcast stations and sending the voice of the college online to stream. Does that work? No. In theory it should but people think of internet for much more than listening to the radio. When you turn on the radio in your car, why do you do it? The answer is to listen to the radio. When you go online on your phone, tablet or computer it can be for any number of reasons including listening to your personal music library. And that's the issue. Listening to an online station is further down the list.
A college station with only online broadcasts does poorly even when it is marketed well and pretty well programmed.
At one school of 11,000, the online station was getting only 1,000 sessions a month worldwide (that's people clicking to listen worldwide). A college of 43,000 said a survey they commissioned showed 1,150 listeners but only 22% were online. 78% listened on the cable TV channel that carried the stream. One California school thinks they are doing quite well: 60 listeners on average. That is good. There's 25,000+ students. Average listening per a national study they shared was 9 minutes and 47 seconds but this is an ancient figure before the 56k modem became a has been. Another college estimated 350 or 4% of the enrollment listened. More than one school told me about 1 in 200 students listen to the college station. In fact three schools have the data gathered by an outside hired research firm to document their claims.
The saddest of all is the little online college station where the spring fundraiser netted $16. The station couldn't cover their streaming costs and the college administration refused to allocate the funds. To make lemonade the station touted the station could be heard in a room in a certain hall and encouraged students to hang out there. The station audience was whoever was in the room at that moment.
While internet is an entirely different animal from over the air radio, we do have to acknowledge a few things: the college student is tech savvy. They are most likely to listen to radio in non-traditional ways. They would consider an online station as more of an equal to over the air. They know the streaming station is the only station for their college (in most cases) and likely the most cutting edge in programming and music (as music discovery, extremes and trends are more important in such demographics).
So, if the above information is accurate, then why do so few listen (0.5 to 4%)? The answer is simply the stations are about a student coming in to do what they want to do for a couple of hours each week and hand it off to the next guy. My point is this negative 'vanity radio' title is pretty accurate. By this I mean no research has done to create a format that is something more will like. The instructor overseeing the station typically says the station is so the students can have a little fun and get their feet wet in radio. This is where the stations fail on two levels: they don't really serve the college and the brand of radio is akin to a kid building roads in the backyard with toy trucks compared to getting that contract to upgrade an interstate highway for your lifelong career (as repairs seem to take decades). Why not let them have some fun, though. We all need it. On the other hand an actual taste of radio is not out of place.
Colleges like Vanderbilt sold their over the air signal because students weren't listening (they think maybe 300). Many other schools have followed suit. It is this 'fun' rather than determining a format to get listeners and keep them that has caused this. That student station now run by professionals as an NPR affiliate is becoming the norm if the station doesn't sell outright. Critics say it is because radio is dead. Then they scream the loudest when a college puts a station up for sale. Ironic, isn't it. If radio didn't matter, why scream? Look at Rice to get a clue. Why did they apply and get a LPFM if radio didn't matter? I contend the stations don't matter because of a lack of good programming where they have researched the audience to learn what they want.
Consider that cautionary from the aspect of going with your idea versus what your research of a good cross-section of the community says they want. My point is your LPFM will have a better chance to succeed if you don't take it personally. You are the caretaker charged with creating what the community wants. Your opinion really doesn't matter, nor does the opinion of your collective board, your friends and so on, just the community at large. And once you gather that data, finding that which everyone wants means plenty of listeners and less of a chance you'll be turning in that license anytime soon.
And a final parting shot: read up on FCC Rules. If you wanted to drive, you'd study your state's driver's handbook because if you break the rules you will get a ticket. In radio the FCC is the police. They seem to not care but all the while they are gathering evidence and about the time you think you've gotten away with it, they show up with mountains of evidence you have no chance of ever fighting. Don't assume you can get by without knowing the rules, you simply cannot. There's quite a few LPFMs out there doing plenty of illegal things. They might get a pass for a couple of years only to be nailed to the wall.
IS CLASSICAL MUSIC VIABLE FOR A LPFM?
It really depends on the market and what you need to operate but I think the biggest factor if you choose Classical Music is knowing how to put it all together.
Classical Radio is not like other formats. You had better get the pronunciations just right. You had better know the highly acclaimed versions of popular works and you had better have a big library. Beyond that executing the format with the right mix is essential. If you wonder what the classical listener is like, read some reviews on Amazon. You'll see 'the orchestra sounded sloppy and inexperienced' or 'conductor seemed to be racing toward the finish, the opposite of the composer's intent' and you might see, 'a great work performed by a budget label orchestra made for a painful listen'. These listeners know good from bad and have lots of knowledge, frequently collecting many versions of a work they love.
Probably the most baffling part is many listeners are occasional listeners. They know the well known works and that's what they prefer. The bad part about this group is they listen more to other formats and those are typically on commercial stations. The occasional listener is less likely to be a donor.
The hardcore listener has some specific requirements: an occasional familiar work is fine, especially if an acclaimed performance and you can toss in a movement or two that the occasional listener likes most. They want to hear entire works (every movement of a symphony without interruption). More often than not they want to discover new works and newly discovered works by known and previously unknown composers. They will listen all day and be fiercely loyal. They'll support you too.
The trick is the hardcore listener wants an announcer they can get to know and looks to the announcer to give them some facts they might not know. For example, we listen now to X, who was a student of Y. In this work, the fifth in his string of compositions, I believe you will hear traces of Y that especially had a distinct influence on his earlier works. Unknown until a couple of decades ago when the transcript was authenticated, the Z orchestra, utilizing period instruments, performs this work under the direction of...
There is a stereotype that works for Underwriting. Businesses think the audience is small but the upper crust of the community in education and monetary earnings. The classical listener, in the business owner's mind, is a good one. The audience, while it seems to be growing (perhaps among occasional listeners), is typically older. Numbers are not substantial but carry lots of weight. Person to person, they tend to donate and are very desirable to business owners.
The trick is doing it right. It can be pieced together by being voice tracked and it needn't be an announcer. A fan of classical music works quite nicely. As someone once said there are professors and white collar workers who might really bite at the bit to voice a daily shift on a weekly basis or so. Since a classical station usually has 5 or fewer breaks an hour, you can do a three hour daily shift in about 10 minutes and a whole week within an hour. They might even be a fan of a certain type of classical music and do a weekly special featuring the music style.
You have to embrace the local arts community. Your listeners will so your hosts will be there to add to the bond between listener and station. Classical listeners want to know what is happening locally in the arts community and fully expects their station to take an active part. If there's a performance, you had better be there.
Before considering classical as a format, realize you need the right group of folks in your 60 dbu or 50 dbu. Second, Classical might be music mostly of prior centuries, new recordings are being made all the time and new discoveries of unknown composers and works being found. For every work or composer you know there's a hundred more if not hundreds you've yet to learn about. It is not a stagnant format.
Another thing I want to point out. Classical stations do quite well with listener guides featuring what is played hour by hour for the coming month and you can sell the advertising as well. To get the monthly guide the listener needs to be a member but most stations will send one on request.
As for the music library: I suggest 400 to 500 hours to begin with well known short works coming up about once a week and stellar performances every couple of weeks. Discovery music should be at least once an hour on shorter works or every couple of hours for longer works. Mostly stations begin the hour with a full length piece (ie: a full symphony for example). Then you fill the hour with a very good variety of works. In a while that should be thousands of hours.
ALTERNATIVES TO UNDERWRITING AND DONATIONS
"We don't want to sell Underwriting or constantly beg listeners for money. Are there other ways to cover operating expenses?"
If you are asking if you can avoid establishing relationships with other businesses or not getting listeners to give you money for some reason, then the answer is no. If you are looking for ways for not selling Underwriting or begging for donations, here are some ideas:
RADIO AUCTION: Ask local businesses for items and services. Then auction them to listeners. You must select the right type of businesses. The best are start-up and small businesses because they want customers. You should visit restaurants, auto mechanics and any type of business that realizes most of their business is gained by 'sampling'. A restaurant knows if they can get you to try them once they have a chance to gain a new regular customer. Mechanics generally offer below cost oil changes to get sampling. You generally are selling gift certificates. Auctions can be online but are best when on air using online to complete the sale. The auction has a set donation and generally going, unlike true auctions, until all product is sold at the fixed minimum donation that should be around 50% off, more or less.
MEMBERSHIP CARDS. Listeners buy a 'membership' and get a plastic card like a credit card to obtain a specified discount at various businesses. You need a good cross-section of businesses to make this work. If you ask for $50, it should be reasonable for the typical consumer to receive about $5 to $25 in value for every dollar they pay for the card. The real kicker is a grocery store that might offer a 1% discount to 3% discount. Restaurants might offer 10% or more. I stress here that you need a bunch of businesses to make this work. The real advantage is the business can track results via the card.
CHARGE YOUR VOLUNTEERS. Yes. Those that do a show get one because they pay the price of membership. Generally this is in the form of some administrative work or public appearances with a certain dollar amount. Most of the plans I have seen are around 1 hour of work for every 12 hours of programming. If you have a 3 hour weekly show, you help out in the office or at appearances about 12-13 hours each year. In addition a rate per hour is charged, usually in the neighborhood of about $2. At one station it is a flat $5 an hour. Be clear the charges are not to buy airtime but a required donation to cover the expenses to operate the station. In fact, in the $5 an hour station, volunteers that do the office work and appearances are paid a token amount for their services. That means someone without the ability to pay can 'work off' the fee. Everyone I have spoken to say it creates a better volunteer because they are invested in the station's success. They tend to be better prepared and more serious about their shows when cash and/or work is involved to earn their time on the air.
ONLINE AND OFF AIR. One station offers coupon booklets. They create it and then let another non-profit sell it, each organization getting 50%. I like this because you can sell a coupon booklet that will sell for $20 in under a week including finding a printer. Then the participating non-profit does the work of selling and collecting the cash.
You can sell space on your website. You can sell Facebook posts if you have a big following. On this end, the mind should run free but it is most important your website can be changed on the fly by someone who is not a computer expert. Simple is the key here.
You can have dinners, events and even auctions for items but I really don't like these options. These tend to be costly and time consuming. Even hosting an artist to play at a club won't net you much for the work. My biggest beef is it does not involve the medium that you already have and a media proven to work. Anyway, to have participation, you must have a substantial audience.
Publishing a weekly or monthly publication whether a shopper, newspaper or listening guide is good but you must sell the advertising and again, you are creating more work to earn the cash to keep the station rolling. You are not using your best tool: your station. Even so, those with a strong local news presence have published a daily newsletter, usually both sides of a standard size sheet of paper and distribute them daily to high traffic areas, mostly before 7 am. These little dailies usually produce a few hundred a month by selling business card ads. It's lots of work and no days off for vacation or if you catch the flu. Chances are you'll be finishing it up at midnight after that boring, long school board or city council meeting.
Remember, for any of this to work you need listeners and plenty of them. If your on air format does not appeal to the masses, it won't work. Anything you do outside the station might require permits and additional insurance to safeguard the station. In some states, radio stations have been held responsible along with the bar for a drunk patron driving away and getting in an accident. Personally I think that is a complete injustice but nonetheless, it happens even though it is the blame game to get innocent parties to pay for something they had no control over and took no part in.
THEY WON'T BUY BECAUSE I CAN'T RUN ADS AND OTHER ISSUES.
This email came in. I want to respond. Unfortunately you will likely never get the client you speak of on the air because you have said the wrong thing. You admit calling it Underwriting and running through all the FCC Rules about Underwriting. You noted the puzzled look, the gracious smile and the owner thanks you for coming by but that you're just not what he needs and that is advertising. You have just learned how not to do it. I have blown my share of sales, maybe more than my share.
I have already said on my website to not call it Underwriting and that the Underwriting Rules are between you and the FCC, not the client, you and the FCC. So just what happened?
Essentially you walked in offering something the business owner had never heard of, tried to tell him what he could do and not do with his money and finally you said it was a donation. That is entirely wrong on every point.
LPFM stations sell 'Top of Mind Awareness' and develop customer loyalty as well as urging listeners to change their buying patterns. That's what advertising does whether you call it a commercial or an Underwriting spot.
You don't tell clients what they can and cannot do. All you are is arrogant to the client. Blame it on the FCC if you want but that's what they think. Or they think they are wasting their hard earned dollars spending them with you.
If they wondered if they were wasting their money, you told them they were because you want a donation.
As a LPFM station you have an excellent advertising medium for the single location business in your listening area. Let's look at options. In your case you are in a county of 50,000. 8,000 live in your community that you serve. The newspapers sell the whole county. The other radio stations reach the whole county and then some. Advertise in the paper or other stations and you're paying to reach the whole county. The price per column inch or per commercial is about $13.50 a column inch and $20-$22 per radio commercial.
You spoke to a recognized brand insurance company office in your town. There is a rep in 4 other towns in the county writing for the same insurance company. If the insurance agency is yours and you're looking at advertising, let me ask you this: Do you consider the insurance customer in the other 4 towns are likely to never be your customer because they have a local office selling the same product as you? Aren't you aware virtually all your customer base comes from the town you are in? So, just how attractive is it to buy in the papers or other radio stations? Aren't you acutely aware you are paying a bunch to make one impression with 50,000 people of which a good 40,000 will never become your customer?
Your LPFM offers a great advantage. LPFM is Trade Area Advertising by building Top Of Mind Awareness messages that have a tendency to produce loyal customers because you tell listeners the business supports their favorite radio station. That even makes other listeners consider moving to the insurance agency that supports their station.
Your $5 rate means the insurance agency pays less per impression and all of their potential customers are in your coverage area. It's just perfect.
So, get out there and sell Top of Mind Awareness in their primary trade area for less money per impression where every dollar works for the business, not 1 in 5 dollars like the other options.
It is not Underwriting. It is marketing the business on your station. It is selling value and benefit. It is about an affordable option. After all, for $20 to $22 you can run a commercial on the other stations to reach the 10,000 in your trade area or you can pay $5 and reach only the 10,000 in your trade area. You can dictate wording by saying you craft the messages to be effective and well received by your listeners. Business owners will 'get' that. They're the insurance expert. You are the radio expert. So, the business buys you for 1) cost effectiveness; 2) the people you reach are their customers and potential customers and 3) you offer value and benefit.
Welcome to the mind of the business owner and how to reach them. You don't offer Underwriting. You don't tell them FCC Rules. You don't take donations. You offer cost effective Top of Mind Awareness marketing that works for less cash than the other options and never wastes a dollar reaching those that will never be their customer. And, that my friend gets the business owner's attention and a piece of their monthly budget.
I feel compelled to write this. I know most readers know otherwise. President Lincoln once said saying a dog has three legs does not make it so. What a wise statement. I have had some frustrating conversations with LPFM CP holders. They claim everything about radio is wrong.
I'm usually not too gentle on such comments. I usually start with: "So you are telling me radio stations are intentionally ignoring the public and intentionally creating radio their listeners do not want. Even so, these stations continue to sell advertising, produce ratings and are successful. Explain how a successful business model involves not offering a product the consumer does not want".
Radio is a business. The world 'business' is used to demonstrate a mode of operation. If you have a job, a place to live, food, transportation, etc., you have this because of the 'business' you conduct. An easier explanation is 'business' is a plan to create the money so you can exist or live. If you do not have the money, you cannot feed yourself, house yourself or take care of your needs. Even if you are in this position you are in the business of getting some assistance from government or private resources until you can provide for yourself on your own. Radio is just this sort of business. To keep the tower up, the transmitter on, a space to act as a studio and such, you must create a path to the funds to pay for it. In other words, you must conduct 'business'.
To say radio does the opposite of what people want is, bluntly, stupid and ignorant. As a person in the business you have told me you know nothing of radio whatsoever. If you knew anything about radio you'd never utter such a statement. You'd understand radio stations craft well thought out business plans to get as many listeners and as much revenue as possible. You don't achieve this without giving the consumer what they want. Even more, they only get there by having the better mousetrap than their competitors can create.
Then the conversation becomes about how bland radio is. Get ready for a shock: I agree radio is bland. We listen to radio. We are the minority. Most use radio differently than we do. I have a friend that keeps track of the movie stars and rates their performance with some level of knowledge. Me, I likely wouldn't know good from bad acting or even remember or care who the cast was. For me, it's I like the movie or not. I don't analyze the script nor the stars cast. That makes me a typical movie viewer. In the same way, the radio critic is equal to my friend while most folks that listen to radio are about like me when it comes to movies.
Those I spoke with were dead set on being nothing like any other station. I think they are set on a path to destruction and they'll never have a clue why they failed. I get truly flustered by people wanting to jump in the deep end of the radio pool without ever once wanting to learn to swim. If they were starting a restaurant, they'd look at other restaurants and try their best to understand every aspect of the operation to create a plan for their venture. These LPFM groups want to learn nothing. They intentionally do not want to understand radio. They specifically do not want to know what the water is like before they dive in and equally could care less knowing what to do once they're in the water. In my mind it is total stupidity beyond any rational thought.
So, why spend any effort on this? The truth is most of these groups formed for the right reasons, to serve and create an access point for a segment of the community. I applaud that no matter if I agree or disagree with the purpose personally. It truly bothers me that so many well intending groups quickly reach the bottom of the deep end with their finger firmly stuck in the drain cover, never to come up for air. If I can save one group from this fate through my words here, I can rest my head on my pillow knowing I tried.
I'm no radio guru but my decades in my business has taught me a few things, especially what not to do because I've seen it done and I've seen how it ends. My best advice is short and sweet: Before you can change radio, you have to change the listener. It is better to follow the successful path than to forge your own. Those that forge their own path always get lost, every one of them. They never reach the destination they seek.
The station that for 6 months has played obscure music at least 90% of the time says they want out. They haven't managed to hear from more than 4 listeners since signing on and have yet to get one business to buy Underwriting although they call on about 30 businesses a week, some over and over. They conclude the community is not receptive to their station. I call it the blame game because the problem is the operator. Now the operator is tired of doling out money every month to stay on the air. Funny, we advised otherwise and so did quite a few others. We were accused of not knowing what we were talking about.
There's the Christian station that says nobody listens and nobody responds. They can't even get folks to send in PSAs. They are ready to throw in the towel. I spoke to them. They play mostly instrumental beautiful music styled Christian music and hardcore fire and brimstone preaching programs. I asked about their church's outreach and they glowed about having free lunch for the community and a slip and slide for the kids, face painting, clowns and such. I said, "Have you ever thought if you approached your radio station like this community event you held the results might be different? After all you tell me the station is to be an evangelism tool." I suggested a Christian friendly secular format seasoned with short features designed to get folks in their pews. That is what they want for 'results' but they'd never, never be 'in the world' via radio. I told them their fate was sealed and when they were ready to toss in the towel to let me know. Maybe another local group might be interested in the station.
Last, there's the station that plays 60 minutes of constant music with an ID on the hour. The ID is call letters and city of license. They never say on the air that they are a community station, how to reach them or anything like this. Somehow the listener is supposed to figure this out. Every weekday at 10:30 they read all the community announcements. They have 2 weekend volunteer shows. The music ranges from hip hop to classical to hardcore and experimental jazz mixed at random with everything in between tossed in too. I told them the mix was too eclectic. They scoffed. They keep saying they are a community station. I told them to be a community station they needed to be. I pointed out their suburban locale meant most residents worked beyond the range of the signal so doing community announcements at 10:30 in the morning was about as off-base as you could get. I suggested at minimum 4 IDs an hour that tell listeners what they are (We're radio for the community by the community) and at least one community announcement per hour every hour. They scoffed. They don't get that to be community you have to say it and say it enough to get the point across. At the very least run community announcements at, say 7:30 when more people are home if you insist on only once a day. They surmise the community is just not a good one for their brand of radio. Again, the blame game. It's not the community, it's you. If you're community, you'd be listening to them, not trying to force feed your format. They're burned out not a year later and talking of giving up. They're tired of self-funding.
There are three examples of what I am talking about: folks dead set on doing the wrong thing and dead set on continuing the plan that is not working. None would heed any advice. All thought they were going to turn radio on it's ear in their town. Anything contrary to their idea was met with "You don't have a clue". If you felt my words were harsh, how would you describe these three case scenarios?.
RADIO WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS
What got me to tackle this is a post I read about a client buying Underwriting on a LPFM and the client wondering if they're getting results. The client wants the station to ask listeners to say they heard the message when they come in.
First, this is not allowed by Underwriting Rules but more importantly it is suicide for the client/radio station relationship.
How do you handle this? I learned by learning what not to do: give in to the suggestion.
Let's stop here and reflect on yourself and everyone else you know. Ask yourself just how many times you tell a business owner you heard their ad or Underwriting? How often do family members, co-workers and friends? Specifically out of the total number of times you have witnessed or participated in a purchase or visit to a store have you volunteered the information? And if asked, how easy was it to recall where you heard about them?.
I am betting the number is zero and even if you have, maybe .0001% of the time.
I was taught to ask the business owner suggesting this how frequently they tell fellow business owners what advertising got them to their store...the grocery store, the convenience store for the morning coffee, when buying gas, etc. I doubt they tell anybody and a honest client will admit this.
Conclusion: If you, everybody you know and even the business owner wanting customers to say do not offer the information, why should your listeners be expected to?
Am I saying radio does not work? No. I know it does. In fact it works quite well and quite economically for almost any business.
Like a deity, radio works in mysterious ways. Of the various media choices, TV, Print and Online require all your attention or senses. You you might be doing something else while watching that TV show but your attention is given the TV show, not the other thing you are doing. With radio you can drive the car, read the paper, cruise the internet and work with the radio on and be listening, giving your full attention. Radio does not require all your senses. The fact is your mind multitasks all the time. Radio and another activity work well with radio.
With radio, because you are likely multitasking while listening, means the listener might not connect the information absorbed by the mind as coming from that source, radio. It really doesn't matter. What matters is the announcement is heard and retained and people do respond but only when they need the product or service.
My Dad advertised on radio. He could never pinpoint one sale or one customer attributed to radio advertising over several years. He stopped his radio advertising and saw an immediate 10% drop in sales. So, he went back on the radio and that 10% returned almost instantly. Still he could not say why. It was a mystery.
I got a new boat rental shop on the air. I visited the second day they opened their doors. This was about 30 years ago...no computers and cell phones then, just beepers and mobile phones. Most businesses didn't even have a fax machine!. The shop bought an ad in a state fishing magazine. I told the guy that was his best advertising option but I suggested a small conservative schedule to attract local rental customers by running a schedule on Friday afternoon and Saturday following the first 1st and 15th of the month, typically called 'payday weekends'.
The boat rental shop owner asked every customer what got them there. Granted the fishing magazine ad got the top spot. Coming in second and third were: Yellow Pages and Newspaper Ad. Funny thing, it would be 6 months before he'd appear in the upcoming annual edition of the Yellow Pages and the only local newspaper never sold him an ad or wrote an article about his new business. Plainly put, he was nowhere to be found in the Yellow Pages or Newspaper. Radio got no responses. Only by going back through his records, seeing local addresses, could he determine radio must have worked because virtually every customer saying newspaper or Yellow Pages was from the local town.
In conclusion, even those of us in radio are perplexed by this even if we are well versed on how to make radio work. We simply trust that it does and we are never let down. It is the client that loses faith that lets us down. We know all too well people do not say radio got them there and we know all to well the customer hasn't a clue what got them there. In spite of it all, the customer does respond and the business reaps the benefit.
Please consider this: If you are advertising a product (and that is what you are really doing when you mention a business offers a product or service), when does the client need it? Today? Next week? Next month? Next year? If you bought a new washer and dryer last week, are you responding to that business selling washers and dryers today? No, only when you need a new washer or dryer. As a result, you want to constantly keep the word out there so when the customer is ready to buy they remember you. Radio works but on the customer's timeline. The result might not be there today, next week, next month but maybe months later because of the awareness radio created today.
So, when a client loses faith, tell them what I wrote here. If they will believe, great. If not, their bottom line will suffer. Results come at the register. Sometimes it takes stopping to figure that out.
A FEW BASICS
Clear your schedule and grab a refreshing beverage. This one is not short.
It was suggested to me that there is too much here to find a starting place just to learn the basics and the reasoning. I agree. I hope to tackle most of the basics here. I assume you have your CP are are about to start or you are early on in your station.
COMPETITION: Everybody on the radio dial is your competitor. Every station on the dial is a choice your listener can make. You need to attract listeners and then you have to keep them. And it's not easy.
By listening to other stations very carefully and taking notes of what they do and the time of hour or day they do it will reveal some interesting finds. You know every station has taken the time to learn what listeners want and when and then figured out how to keep them listening once they tune in. Plainly put, if it makes it on the air there is a darn good reason for it. Commercial stations sell their listening audience to advertisers. Non-commercial stations need more listeners to make Underwriting a good deal for businesses and to better their chances at increasing listener donations.
Do not think for a minute you are going to forge a new path in radio. If you think you can, you have as good a chance of changing radio as you would making gravity take on different properties. To change radio you must change the listener first. I point this out because it is a major reason LPFM stations fail. Simply put, they think they don't need to be in the radio box. I'm saying jump in that box and work from within. Boxes are not cookie cutter, they come in all shapes and sizes.
FORMAT: Have you ever thought if your format is missing from the radio dial there is a good reason for that? There is. Typically it is not viable. In other words, the number of listeners that choose the option are so few, you just can't make it go financially.
The biggest misconception is to opt for a format that attracts a tiny percentage of radio listeners. Radio is all about numbers. LPFM stations, by their very design, must program to the masses. When the local station in your area reaches 100,000 but your LPFM only reaches 10,000 or fewer, you must find a way to reach as many of those 10,000 to survive. If you choose a format that only 1 or 2 percent will choose, even if you did things perfectly, you're talking 100 to 200 listeners for your LPFM.
There is a reason a station reaching 13,500 attracts only 250 listeners and only takes in about $50 a week in revenue. Their admirable goals still remain unobtainable because of lack of listeners. Listener numbers offer revenue and volunteers to make good things happen.
Let me explain further with ice cream. I read an article about ice cream. It said while the number of flavors available was almost limitless, it was difficult for even large ice cream makers to justify making so many flavors. It pointed out vanilla was still the #1 flavor no matter what. Vanilla accounted for more sales than all the other flavors combined excepting chocolate that was the #2 flavor. Vanilla is not exciting to ice cream lovers but while they might opt for a special flavor, they like vanilla just the same. Radio is like ice cream. You might want to be some new designer flavor but to sell lots of ice cream, vanilla will do that. Of 200 customers at the grocery store, maybe one will buy the same designer flavor. My point, if radio listeners are ice cream buyers, vanilla should be your target.
Let's move a step further. Look at how you can dress up vanilla to make it a tempting delight: add chocolate syrup, candy pieces, banana, whipped cream and such. Vanilla can be dressed up with local content that makes plain old vanilla pretty exciting.
UNDERWRITING. The best advice here is to think business. You really have to think here. The best might be to ask business owners what would make them spend money to be on your station. Do not mention the word Underwriting. It is an industry term. For the masses, underwriting is something insurance companies do. Learn what makes them say yes to being on your station.
I have been doing radio sales since 1987. I can give you some real tidbits of real life experience. Let's break this down.
First businesses buy because they like you and trust you. Think of it as dating. If you want to get to first base and then to home plate to score, you need to invest time and effort and let the relationship grow. Just like the person that skips the bases and goes to home base on the first date, you are seen the same way if you try to do the same. You are not worth much in the business owner's eyes. They want to get to know you and be known to you. They want a relationship.
Second, the presentation must match the mind of the recipient. If a six year old asks a question, your response is evaluated by the understanding of a six year old. Simply put, it is not the same explanation you'd give a thirty year old. You must know the mind of the business owner.
The business owner knows what it takes to earn every dollar they make and to part with their money there had better be a good reason. Donations are made because of the benefit the business enjoys. In short, you must show a benefit for them to hand you money.
Let's get real. Even stations conducting a pledge drive frequently have thank you gifts. The Girl Scouts sell cookies. The list goes on. Why? When you ask for a donation you transfer the benefit from the giver to the recipient. To increase donations, many offer a benefit because it works better than no benefit at all.
If you cannot take the time to explain to the business owner in terms the owner can relate, why spending on your LPFM is a good deal, don't try. And I caution you: all the stuff that excites you about the station is a time waster for the business owner. The business owner wants to know how they can benefit and why. They want to feel it is a wise choice. Too many radio stations think cutting down other stations, talking about how they offer a needed service or how they put community members on the air will 'sell' the owner. Never attack other stations and isn't their business offering a needed community service? If not, wouldn't they go out of business?
Many stations opt for very cheap rates for two reasons. One is the station does not truly know how many are listening. Second, it is easier to get a yes for an insignificant dollar amount. All this does is create the image that you offer nothing of value and that low rate is likely overpriced.
To be seen as a member of media, your rates should be somewhere in the neighborhood of what other media charges. I suggest folks look at the rate the local paper charges for a business card ad or listing in the business directory. That rate might buy an announcement a day on your LPFM, a minimal package.
Just because you choose such a rate does not mean it is the same for all. The idea is you offer packages for the big business and smallest. If a bank can spend, say $300 or $500, you create a package that matches their advertising philosophy and what they normally spend. And you never ever show two packages because the cheapest is always chosen. It should always be a package just for the client where you explain using their words, why you think this will be good for them and that price is the amount they told you they could spend. This is the way you build a good client base.
You ask about spending versus results. I get that. Businesses don't know where their customers come from more often than not. Satisfaction is more about your relationship with the client and if the client believes your package is the image they want to convey. Simply put, your listeners will respond and as your station grows, more listeners will respond.
I strongly discourage mentioning Underwriting Rules. Nobody wants to be told no when they are spending their cash. Find a way to dictate content. I like 'audio business cards' that say who you are, what you do and how to get in touch. If the client wants more, put it on the website for your station. Remember, Underwriting Rules only apply to over the air. Create a business directory where you really let the client introduce themselves. Here is a great example: https://www.kcme.org/business-directory/
You need to learn what the business owner likes and find a way to make that happen. It is really that simple but you must take the time for this to be revealed to you.
PROGRAMMING. If you are not programming for the community, the people in your listening range, you are dead wrong. This LPFM is not about you or your board. You are charged with serving the needs of the people in your listening area. Yes, that means your station might not be your cup of tea. Chances are it won't be your favorite station. It shouldn't be. It should be the 'preferred choice' for those in your listening area.
Preferred Choice:This means loved by a few, liked by many and simply okay to the masses. Given the choices on the dial, you are preferred because of the local content. In religion it is called 'watered down' because it eliminates the sticking points between denominations and gets down to what they all have in common. Preferred choice is all about common ground among as many as you can get.
Preferred Choice works by the seasoning you give to what might be called plain old vanilla. In other words, the chocolate syrup, whipped cream and cherry on top are the local content that makes you preferred over all the rest.
You do not go with personal choice. I worked for a station owner in 1980 who dreamed of running a classical music station. He researched his town. The common denominator was country music, the one type this owner not only disliked but detested. His station was an exceptional country station the town loved and cherished. We played the same country songs about 10 other stations on the dial played, some major market stations included, but the local listeners preferred his station because of the locally made chocolate syrup, whipped cream and cherry he added to that vanilla ice cream.
LISTENERS. Listeners have choices. They make choices. They are much more fickle than in the past. They tune away from stations for the smallest complaint. So, stations research to find ways to attract listeners, create a mental image with listeners and keep those people listening for the longest period of time once they come to your station. If you don't have this mindset, you will likely have a very hard time or simply go under. Other stations see one listener lost to you as one too many, so they're fighting to get them back at any cost. That is a fact, like it or not. And it's the same in the small market as the major market.
Radio is competitive, commercial and non-commercial. Either you get competitive or you get gobbled up.
Listener Common Ground: I will attempt to explain this simply. There are two types of music listeners: the Adventurer who relishes hearing something different and new, catching new trends and learning to hear different styles of music through the ears of those who love it and/or make it. They'd find Tuvan throat singing interesting. This is a minority of music listeners as a whole and radio people tend to be this type. The vast majority of music listeners are seeking familiar, known songs and see music as a friend. An unknown song is a stranger they might embrace but likely won't until they become familiar and comfortable. Unknown songs are like first dates or even folks asking you out. Of all that did, how many did you choose? Then, how many were enjoyable first dates and how many earned a second date?
These opposites are united at the common ground. There are many songs that are good to everyone. Radio plays those. They begin with songs that 10 out of 10 people like, then 9 in 10 and further down the list to, say 7 in 10. Depending on the market, competition and such, you might stop at 9 in 10. So let me explain this.
If 10 in 10 like a song, great. The fact is listeners tune to 5 to 8 stations a week, dividing up their 806 minutes of radio listening weekly on average. If you can play enough 9 and 10 songs, when another station plays a 7, you have a chance to get their listener. The longer you can keep that listener with songs they like, the better because the greater the share of that 806 minutes of listening you get. This relates directly to the number of listeners that will love you enough to donate. For donations, 1 in 10 might send you money, so more listens means more donations. When you sell underwriting, the greater number of listeners that hear it, the greater the chances are you can count on that business to buy again and again.
The issue comes once you go lower than the 10 in 10. If you play a 7 in 10, in theory, you lose 3 out of 10 listeners you have who opt to find their 10 song on another station. If you play two 7 in 10 songs back to back, chances are you lose 45% of listeners that were there when you played the 10 in 10 song. The ebb and flow happens no matter what but you want the ebb to be as close to flow as you can get it. In fact, the retention of listeners is measured in minutes.
Follow me on this: if you turn over your listeners too often, they will spend only a few minutes at a time with you at one listening session. Since listeners are coming and going all the time, the longer they listen in one listening session, the more listeners you have.
Let's look at real numbers from two stations in a top 50 market. Station A plays familiar music and lots of local information. Station B is known as eclectic and music played is easily 80% unfamiliar. Station A has a listener for about 225 minutes a week. When you look at their number of listeners per quarter hour, it is around 3,000. Station B gets listeners for about 75 minutes a week and only has 300 listening each quarter hour.
You can see from the ratings that Station A has ten times the listeners meaning their number of listeners that donate (based on 1 in 10 donating) is 10 times as much as Station B. Station A can charge 10 times the rate for Underwriting and the Underwriter only needs to have their message repeated (by the numbers) 33.6 times a week to reach all their listeners 6 am to Midnight. The Underwriter on Station B needs 100.8 messages to reach all their listeners even though their rate per announcement is 10% of Station A. Since stations limit the number of Underwriters they air in a single hour, I must ask which scenario is the one you prefer for your station?
If you limit underwriting to 6 an hour, you fill your schedule with 7.5 Underwriters on Station B paying 10% of what Station A charges. Station A can sell to 22.5 Underwriters at 10 times the rate Station B can command.
Then there are listener donations. The 1 in 10 really is not accurate. A listener choosing a station for more than 25% of their entire radio listening is much more likely to donate than a listener that spends less than 10%. By human nature alone Station A is 2.5 times more likely, by the numbers, to get that donation. In theory, if 2.5 in 10 might donate to Station A, less than one in 30 might donate to Station B.
IMAGE. Your actions are what you are. First impressions are everything. If you don't think that, is that jerk from high school so many years ago still a jerk in your mind? You are very much like a candidate for political office on the campaign trail. You make sure every word and action puts you in the best light possible. You must have a stellar image in the community. Anyone without that image should not be associated with you and by all means do not ever do something that makes the community choose sides. That does not mean you cannot tackle real issues but you have to take extreme care to save your unblemished image.
With that in mind, some mistakes will happen. I see it like building a personal emergency fund for when a major event happens that takes much more than your paycheck can handle. You bolster your station image with real community involvement. You want people to want to defend you with all you do involving the community and benefiting the community. If a person says they agree your station did something wrong, you want them to counter with 'but look at all the good they do'. To be the community, you must take an active role. Sitting in your office is not community. Getting out there and involved is. Great media is a part of all that happens in a community. Your LPFM needs to be this. Your reward is the community accepts you as part of the community and appreciates that you are there. Your radio station should be a reflection of life in the community it serves.
DON'T PUSH IT. Know FCC Rules. Know their mind. Don't push the envelope. Have you noticed those that do always seem to get an unpleasant reward for doing so? The FCC is no different than a cop. If you aren't paying attention and exceed the speed limit because of a lack of attention, you might be truthful about it and promise to watch your speed. Chances are yours is a warning. If the cop walks up and you are not wearing your seat belt, your inspection sticker expired, you don't have your license or insurance card either, and you choose to act like a jerk, guess what? You are in for a world of financial hurt. Follow the rules to the best of your ability. Don't push the limit and don't give a reason for the FCC to pay attention to you because of your actions. Chances are they can find something you messed up on but if they can see you are trying to abide with the rules as diligently as you can, chances are they will tell you how to correct the issue rather than issue a fine.
It really pays off to be somewhere in the middle and have a healthy respect for the entity that gave you permission to run a radio station in the first place. Indeed, in extreme circumstances the FCC has ripped the license from the wall and left you with nothing. Sure you might have to essentially spit in their face not once but several times. The adage of you can't beat city hall rings true here. They make the rules and they interpret them, plus they have all their ducks in a nice neat row when they bring the hammer down. It is not a position you want to find yourself.
NETWORK. It is unreasonable to think you have all the answers. Get input, share and learn. Ask opinions. It has been widely stated the day you quit learning, no matter how long you have been in the business, get out of radio for good.
With that in mind, let me say, even if radio is only part of what you do, be radio in the radio part. Stupidity seems to reign here. You'd be amazed how many refuse help, advice and suggestions from people who know radio and have earned their place in the business through their knowledge. If your church or animal shelter opened a clothing store, would you seek advice from other people who own, operate and earn a living operating a clothing store? Or would you say, ignore them, they're not like us?
Might I add, embrace stations that are not Low Power FMs too. The best way to get them on board versus against you is to befriend them. You'd be amazed to learn you share so much in common. Indeed many commercial station owners wish they could be you but the need for a paycheck from their station forces them to be what they are. It's like what an interior designer told me: I have all these wonderful ideas but am stuck doing what my clients dictate if I want clients in the first place.
PARTING SHOT: If you build it they will come is not the case in radio. You need to market your station, increase awareness and give the listener something of value. It is like any storefront business. Nobody knows about you until you market yourself and give the shopper reasons to walk through the door. Sure, some might discover you by chance, but those numbers are always insignificant. Nobody underwrites until asked. Nobody listens until you make them aware and given them a reason. Nobody donates until you ask. If you think people will flock to you, you might be scratching your head asking what went wrong in the not too near future.
SHUT IT DOWN AND SELL IT!
You may have never heard of Arroyo City, Texas. I hadn't. It is an unincorporated community. In fact, it is about a two mile stretch of road with permanent and part-time homes lined up on the channel going to the ocean conveniently blocked from the Gulf of Mexico by South Padre Island in deep South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley.
Arroyo City is not a hopping tourist spot but along a feeder highway (a classification of highway that connects to a longer main highway). It is more of a makeshift appearing weekend destination for those who have a place out there or might know people. There are few businesses, maybe 15 within about 5 miles. For a radio station, it is not ideal.
The plan was for a ministry oriented station at the place the head of the ministry would retire. They bought land, put in septic, paid for a water connection, put in a mobile home and erected a 100+ foot self-sustaining tower. They put some money in to this and likely much of that was legal fees to fight off other applicants over several years and to convince the FCC that this close to Mexico would not be an issue to Mexican authorities.
They do it all right. A local person tends to the station. They had been on the air about 4 years, pumping out 4,500 watts from about 100 feet in the air with a two bay antenna. Equipment was purchased new. The station has rolled along since then. It's textbook, just as it should be. Here's a broadcaster that is abiding by the rules and running a decent operation.
Now it is silent. The wife says it costs too much. It needs to be shut down and sold. Considering what you get, it is a bargain. Considering who you'll reach might be another question. Coverage maps are theory. Reality is in the radio. Maybe the flat terrain means they get out further than the best coverage prediction systems in place, I can't say. It is on the edge of a densely populated area but the trouble is the population per square mile goes down very drastically as you head to the coast. The land is just not suitable for building endless strings of neighborhoods. Only a few pockets are good for more than growing a crop or running cattle. It is not unlike the area south of Interstate 10 between Houston and Beaumont. It's pretty desolate. Locals in Houston say it is swamp all the way to Beaumont. Indeed it is low lying just like the area around this station.
The plan, as I understand it, was this couple was to retire in Arroyo City and continue the ministry by running the station in retirement. I sure cannot fault the plan. What I can fault is the research.
I see this as the biggest factor for LPFM stations. You have a 'founder' with a vision they are emotionally attached to. That becomes their purpose. It doesn't matter what the community thinks because in the founder's mind all will embrace the mindset of the founder. After all all the founder's friends agree, all 12 of them.
So, what happened? First, you must have a physical location and a real employee. This station, 88.1 KVJS, has to run the station at 4,500 watts ERP, full EAS and so forth. I'm not saying you need a bank to maintain this but you need a hefty sum, if coming from your paycheck, to keep this baby humming month after month. Any LPFM operator knows how a little here and a little there seem cheap until you add it all up.
Yes, I fault the research. There's 53 stations on the dial. 7 are Christian formats. Christian radio, per figures I have seen, reaches 5.2% of listeners. The tiniest effort in research can tell you about 0.75% of the listeners is not much unless you cover lots of population. Although I have no population count in the 60 or 50 dbu, 20,000 is likely stretching it a bit. So, at best we might be talking 150 listeners maybe listening 3 hours a week. Run those numbers. Might 2 or 3 be listening at any given time? How can that sustain the operational cost of the station? It can't. The format can never get the station in the black.
So, what do you do with a station covering a small population? You go local. You go after what everyone has in common because you need everyone you can get to listen so you can survive. Maybe a weather and visitor information format would work. It is a tough market: a mixture of two cultures and languages. I have worked such markets and except for very youth oriented formats, there's not a bunch of cross-over. Catering to the visitor is certainly where the money is. I doubt the local retailers are saying their weekend business is terrible but rather weekdays it hardly pays to turn on the lights.
Needless to say, nobody will get rich with the station. Forget that it is a non-commercial FM. It sure isn't poised for growth. It's just a bunch of not too lovely houses designed to serve as a base for being outdoors much of the time. Sure, some have a nice place and live there fulltime. There's just 100 businesses in the 60 dbu. Fewer than 20 within 8 miles. Almost all are small. In fact, I would think you are doing great if you could have the station doing $5,000 to $6,000 a month and you could bet most of that would come in the summer. Even that might not be possible because there are other destinations that are known, developed and nicer. I call this a long shot station.
Can it be moved? Maybe, but not much. You have Corpus Christi, the Rio Grande Valley and Mexican stations to contend with. That's a big investment that might not play out in your favor. More than likely, if the station does sell (hint: try a broker), it will likely stay put.
So, why is KVJS now silent? Money is the real reason. Why is money a factor? Poor research and choosing a format based on what the operator wants versus the community. At every angle it went south: community chosen because the operator liked it versus considering if the station could support it; choosing a format that produces so few listeners it is doomed; and letting emotion rule over business sense.
I like to term this a cautionary tale from real life of what can happen when your plan is not researched and respected as a business.
I take lots of criticism about using the word business. I will watch those with the harshest words go under. At least that has been their track record. Just like a business, you need a path to the money to pay the bills, the very bills a business gets to pay too. Just like you do in your life, the radio station needs a path to the money to shelter and feed it. For many of us that path is a job at a business that makes sure your paycheck clears by having a path to the money. To say your refuse to be a business is like refusing to accept cash. We live in a cash economy so we have to deal with cash. To do so means doing business.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH UNDERWRITING?
If you are looking for a straight answer, you're out of luck but I can give some clues. The biggest clue is how it sounds.
The only concrete, frequently quoted statement the FCC has used is an Underwriting unit should be under 30 seconds. Their reasoning is the longer you go the better the chances you will exceed the Underwriting Rules in place.
It is trickier than that. The number of units in an hour can matter depending on presentation. The content or copy can be an issue. Note the word 'can'. You see these 'cans' are not specifically stated. In other words, you can do it right, follow the rules to a 'T' and still get it wrong. These are unwritten rules. To figure this out you need to look at violations.
In hindsight, I truly regret not printing out the ruling on one LPFM station. The FCC didn't like what they saw and heard on several different levels. In other words, it was a station that got lots of things wrong. In other words, they made a visit for one thing and found many other things wrong. I believe this is why they were admonished about the Underwriting.
One station did 4 breaks an hour. Each break began by saying these sound like commercials but they're not, they're Underwriting. Then came a string of 3 or 4 fully produced and frequently multiple voiced Underwriting units in the 30 second range. Indeed it sounded like a typical commercial break on a commercial radio station, just not as long in most instances.
The FCC admonished this station. Did they break Underwriting Rules? No they did not. There is no rule about how many Underwriting units is too much, even the length of the unit or even if it is professionally produced and multi-voiced. There is no rule about how many you can play in a break or how many breaks you can have. This station did about 12 to 16 an hour.
Admonished for what exactly? You broke no rules so why are you in trouble? Reasonable question. The FCC stated in their opinion, the Underwriting breaks sounded too much like commercials. The idea of public radio is for Underwriting not to sound like the typical commercial radio ad. There were too many Underwriting units. The admonishment suggested not more than six an hour and in the 20 second range. But you say, wait a minute, there is no rule stating number of units and length. You are right.
So, how can the FCC be so brazen? Simple. They make the rules and they interpret them, even if unwritten. Fair? Nope. So why do they do this? In this instance we get 'spirit of the rules'. After all, I counted as many as 35 station sold Underwriter units on a big NPR network during an hour of All Things Considered. Why aren't they admonished? The reason is as clear as the FCC's admonishment is unclear. The FCC doesn't care about how many you run in an hour or their length as long as the over the air sound is not virtually identical to commercial radio. All the 35 Underwriter units on the NPR station were about 15 seconds and voice only. That is your takeaway. The FCC should have said this LPFM station created Underwriting that sounded too much like a commercial in style, to tone it back a bit.
Length is not a good rule of thumb because a 15 second unit can get you in trouble. One station listed 5 items in their Underwriting unit for a business. They were fined for what is termed 'menu' copy. In other words, they listed too many things a business offered in a single Underwriting unit. But there is no rule about this, so how can you get fined? Good question. I wish I knew. What is safe, then? Well, we know 4 has not resulted in a fine. 3 is much safer. Looking at most stations, 3 is the limit. The FCC cites the language needed to identify the business as the rule. It seems listing 5 items the business sells is too much. No guidelines at all were offered.
Is the FCC trying to be vague? Certainly. The way they see it, the more they define things the harder it is on us. They just want us to act in good faith. On the other hand, seemingly arbitrary rulings are landmines for the financially challenged LPFM. Still, to create another rule is seen as being way to restrictive to the FCC. I knew a guy that lived in Montana when the state had no maximum speed limit on the highways. Cool, you'd think. It was horrible. In lieu of a speeding ticket you get cited for reckless driving and the fine is bigger and tougher to fight. So, you tried for the middle ground.
So what do you do? I suggest you keep items to 3 and no more. Look at the message over length but try not to exceed 20 seconds per Underwriter. Do not make the unit mimic a commercial (fancy production and multi-voiced). I do not think the number per hour matters too much if done right.
One station I know does 4 short breaks hourly for weather, community announcements and such. All 4 are co-sponsored as in an Underwriting unit credited as a sponsor of the feature at the beginning and end. That's 8 right there. They break two more times hourly for up to 2 Underwriting units in a stop set at :22 and :52. They tie each unit together with "and by" between the Underwriting. They have a station image set of music beds they use for all breaks, including DJ patter, and this is underneath the Underwriting units. The Underwriting is otherwise, voice only. This seems fine. Sure it is up to 12 an hour but the intent is not to make the Underwriting mimic a commercial and while the units are tied together with a weather forecast or community announcement or the wording "and by", the 'perception' is not more than six breaks even though units can be as long as 30 seconds per Underwriter. And that is important. Two Underwriters can be one Unit when you utilize 'and by'. It is the same thinking of the 'roll call' of sponsors: Small Town High School Football is made possible by...say a list of 4 or 5 sponsors getting a 10 to 15 second acknowledgment to create a 60 second unit.
Another fellow does up to 60 seconds and is fine. His Underwriting is more personal. He calls it storytelling. The unit might focus on the history of the business; ie: "Mark at Mark's Furniture Restoration began after he and his wife Amber, decided they wanted to move out of the big city and enjoy life in a more rural area, choosing our community to relocate. That was in 1992. Both worked on a plan to make a living. Mark, who has always loved working on wood projects in the garage since childhood, chose furniture restoration. Asking Mark what he loves about the change, he told us he loves walking to the barn to work at what he enjoys, the beautiful scenery and friendly small town atmosphere. Many of his jobs are family heirlooms and he feels satisfaction trying to restore the piece of furniture to its former glory. He especially enjoys learning the history of the piece he gets to restore. He said he likes to offer a paper saying what he did just in case anyone in the future might want to know more about that piece of furniture. Mark's Furniture Restoration can be found at 212 Cold Springs Road. Mark's phone is 555-1212.". It's not a word for word but you get the idea. He has been doing this style of Underwriting for well over a decade with no FCC intervention and I suspect the heavily over-radioed market has made the FCC aware of what he does because he has about 60 sponsors.
By citing the above two examples, I think you can understand the real beef at the FCC is sounding too much like a commercial station in your Underwriting. I want to also point out that in each instance there was a complaint filed and there were other problems aside from Underwriting. So, if you stay serious about abiding by FCC rules, the question about your Underwriting, even if you slip up, will likely never happen. In other words, if you try to get it right, you are likely to get advice versus a fine. It is essential you have a plan in place and stick with it. Don't come close to that line in the sand and you should be fine whether it involves a written or unwritten Underwriting Rule.
The two spots that nabbed a fine were:
Programming on WOBO is underwritten by [company name], featuring bulk and bag mulch, peat moss, potting soil, bulk top soil and decorative borders. They also feature pickup and delivery. [Company name, address and phone number].
Underwriting by [name and address of company], featuring custom metal roofing, siding, hardware, trim, insulation, trusses, and perma felt paper. Information at [website and phone number]..
A SOFT BEGINNING
Starting your LPFM station, you are really excited and ready to do so much. Talking to a buddy from the first filing window suggests to stop and think again. He started with promos saying they were building the community's new radio station, locally owned, locally operated.
He explained it was nothing but music, liners and music at first. The only talk was to educate the listener on how to interact with the station. There was talk of local announcements about what was going on in town. They sought input and got it. Just like commercial radio, he had a game plan worked out already so the comments simply cued him to check his plan for a double check. In time he had much more on the air, but in the beginning it was a soft beginning.
Why was this a smart choice in my opinion? First, if you are all you can be on day one, you have nowhere to go. And chances are good you might have to cut back at some point, something you should never ever do. It is the mark of failure.
I have preached many times to do less than you can so that in good times and bad you can always make forward progress. Listeners and Underwriters do notice. Each step forward makes you the underdog that might just win the race.
WHEN YOU SAY "BE LOCAL", WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Local can be lots of things and we can sum it up in a tidy phrase but that doesn't give you the nuts and bolts.
I like to look at small town newspapers for "local". The small town newspaper survives by being local and giving readers what they want. In almost all case scenarios, the small town newspaper is a paying job, so they sell advertising and they charge the reader or consumer of this local information for the right to read it in print.
Granted, all newspapers are not the same. Some do a poor job at being well rounded in coverage. Some deliver free to people by selling more ads to make up the printing costs. Most have years of experience at finding the right information for readers that doesn't get them in hot water with the community. And the readers pay an average of 50 cents to a dollar a week to get that information. Advertisers pay for the right to be seen among this local information. My point is, if you want to see what is "local" for your community, look first at the local hometown newspaper.
By all means look at the newspaper as your friend. If they are a weekly, as many are, they know you, being radio can offer more immediate details the paper just cannot do. They likely see you as more of an ally than enemy and will be much more likely to work with you. In fact, there are several cases I know of where the local newspaper editor does the local news for the LPFM.
As a matter of fact, at a station with zero budget for local news, I had to figure how to do local news. I made a call to the group-owned daily in my town and asked the editor about it. In two hours he had the okay and we started the next day. He'd do a news headlines for me at 11:50 and 12:50 each weekday. We named it Front Page News. At the conclusion, the tag line was "More details in this afternoon's edition. For subscription information the number is XXX-XXXX. I'm Joe Blow, Editor of the Your Town Daily News for Power 96 FM". He got a free plug. We got free local news and when something pressing happened we put him on the phone for an update. It was a nice marriage between print and radio.
No, it wasn't the complete cast I would have with a dedicated news director but with zero budget, it was something and the price certainly fit my budget: free. In fact each cast was about 60 to 90 seconds and touched on 4 to 6 local stories, probably as many, if not more stories that the single person news department at our competition covered.
LOW POWER FM STATION FOR SALE OR WE CAN'T BUILD IT
There are some LPFM groups with a Construction Permit in their hands but because of whatever reason, the station will not happen. Many do not realize the incredibly rare opportunity they have or that there are other groups ready to roll when your group cannot.
For example: One LPFM had the board implode and the surviving board cannot create a logistics and financial plan to see the station through from CP to licensed. It is a wonderful opportunity for some group. I'll give some details.
The station is positioned on a leased tower to serve around 37,000 to 52,000 (software says 37,000 but Longley Rice says 52,000). The location means no new full power stations. Growth in the area means population has increased significantly and continues. National chains have appeared in the past few years. This is a sign of continued population growth.
There are two commercial stations and terrain means many metro stations are poorly received. The two commercial stations have good billing, pricing themselves out of reach for most of the local business community. Print options are high as well. The result is Mom and Pop businesses are out in the cold, a perfect target for the LPFM.
Programming holes are plentiful meaning several high audience number formats can be executed here without local competition.
Operating costs with tower rental should be under $1,000 plus a physical office for the station (a home? donated space?). Other tower site options available if you want your own tower and land is still quite cheap. In fact $5,000 to $8,000 would buy enough land for certain towers.
Retail sales in area is around $700,000,000. Station should put a nice signal in to both of the local shopping hubs in the area.
Station must be built and licensed by February 2017.
Deal includes board member agreeable to your vision to satisfy FCC rules, computers, back-ups, automation software and other programs to provide efficiency and redundancy. Nautel VS 300 with Orban inside still in box. Full EAS compliance with Monroe EAS Encoder/Decoder with 3 radios inside, also still in box, Nicom BKG77 single bay with upgrade N(F) to 7/8ths inch EIA. Non-profit is a Texas registered with bylaws written by head of Texas Association of Non-profit Organizations (TANO) to allow easy qualification of IRS 501(c)3 status (in other words, written the way the IRS likes things) and, for what it is worth, the perfect call letters for the area. Approval of site approved by FCC in Construction Permit by tower company, waiting for a signed contract (they cannot take more tenants without strengthening tower, so the LPFM can go on no matter what).
Important to note: community is welcoming to newcomers and has good opinion of local radio while desiring more options. The head of the board researched many communities and decided on this because of the population and retail growth, lack on new full power stations coming in and the ability to reach the shopping hubs with the LPFM. The founder projects the station can easily generate around $10,000 a month with a mass appeal format.
Including everything, the founder thinks around $17,000 is invested (exact total needs to be figured but he believes it to be just under $17,000). The founder wants to find another group to take the reigns because of the distance from his job and the inability to survive without a paycheck until a board might hire him to run the station. He prefers sell everything as a package and will provide free support to new operator. He says if he had another $10,000 in savings he'd do this in a heartbeat.
If you want to know more, click the contact me button.
YOU CAN'T BUILD IT?
I have another looking for a LPFM. He has a State non-profit in good standing. He is willing to pay all actual expenses to get in to the station, cash up front. He needs to know market (community) and any coverage information you can provide. If your LPFM is thinking of throwing in the towel, let me know. He might be your guy. Just hit the contact me button.
TO TRANSFER A LPFM STATION IS TRICKY
SOUNDING LOCAL IN ALL YOU DO
Speaking to an anti-commercial radio guy, I was talking about this and he said it was garbage. I disagree. Commercial or non-commercial, it is all about getting listeners to choose you and local always wins. And to be local, it takes intent and action to make it happen. Intent and action are in play here.
Being local is not simply reading community announcements but being local in all you do. I spent over a decade exclusively on air and in programming. I was lucky. I got to hear some ultra successful radio. As a kid I listened to WHB in Kansas City and KLIF in Dallas. These are the two radio stations credited with being the first top 40 stations in the country. Top 40 was very local and very involved in the community. It was very intensively involved with the listener. Jocks were true entertainers. You might hate top 40 but you simply cannot deny the localism.
Now I'm no guru of radio programming at all but I noticed something. Local is not limited to announcing something going on or taking requests. Local is making the mundane local. For example, everyone can read the weather forecast, but it is how you make it local that matters.
Rephrase the forecast from the dry: "Today. Partly Cloudy, windy with a chance of afternoon shows and thunderstorms. High today in the upper 70s. Winds southerly at 10 to 15 miles per hour this morning increasing to 25 to 35 miles per hour this afternoon with gusts to 40 miles per hour. Chance of precipitation 20 percent this morning increasing to 50% this afternoon". I might say: "Partly Cloudy today, heading for 78. Breezy this afternoon with wind gusts to 40 miles per hour and even a one in two shot of a shower or thunderstorm this afternoon. So, that baseball game between Arthur and our own Mustangs might be delayed. We'll let you know before game time how things are looking. You'd never know what is headed our way, we have sunny skies, a nice spring morning and 65 at your hometown station".
You'll notice I gave you the forecast as an average person would and I related the predicted forecast to a local activity. Not everyone will know of the game but they know the local high school Mustangs. In other words, I made the weather local by relating it to a local happening. Anybody can read the weather, but it is how you deliver the forecast that counts.
You can slip in other local flavorings to make most anything you do on the air truly local to your audience. The key to local and bonding to the listener is to frequently tell them you know all about the world they live in. They can relate to what you say. The more you do it the more the listeners you will get, even if the music is not their preferred choice.
For what it is worth, I subscribe to the belief that we as humans have certain animal-like traits. We might not need them to survive today, but they are there. One big trait is to know our world is safe. I know that sounds stupid but hear me out. The reason we do news in the morning is to learn about what we will face when we leave our homes for work. We want to know what to expect. We do the same with traffic and weather reports. By talking about things that are local and part of our listener's daily world, we create the illusion we are keeping a handle on the world out there, so from a primal need to know our world is safe, they'll listen to be kept informed.
Before you dismiss the paragraph above, let me ask you if you have ever been in a situation where you felt information was needed so you knew how to react to a pending situation but could not find that information from any media source. For example, you know a tornado is headed toward your community but you don't find any updates anywhere. How do you feel? What if there had been a shooting a couple of blocks away and the shooter was at large, yet you could not get any new details? How would you feel? Most would say they are angry at media for not providing updates. Why? You look to media to inform you about your world. When they don't, you go in to panic mode, so to speak. That tells me the more you can relate to your listener's world through being local in all you do, the more you are counted on by the local community and the more they will listen to learn if their world is safe or what the current threat is. In other words, you tend to a basic human need.
I'M LISTENING, I'M LOOKING
I like to take a look at LPFM websites and listen to LPFM stations online. I see some issues I'd like to detail. Generally it is only small things that can be easily corrected.
In listening to one station, a classic hits LPFM, there were professional liners, great voice tracking and 'Arbitron Clock' positioning of snappy and short Underwriter units (While Arbitron is no more, the idea is to center non-music elements in the middle 5 minutes of the quarter hour to maximize the number of listeners, at least on paper). It is a top notch station. Best of all, it is just another signal on the radio dial. If I can tell you are a LPFM except by your localized content, you are not doing it right in my mind (ie: poor sound quality, lack of logistics in programming, etc.).
In the South, Southern Gospel is a format of choice. If there are two or three stations in town, your second or third choice is Southern Gospel. While not hugely popular with business advertisers, the format is big and I have heard excellent stations. In larger markets I have heard jingles, contests, promotions, professional jocks, long music sweeps and such. In small markets I have heard friendly yet seemingly unprofessional voices as if they were talking to you over a cup of coffee at your kitchen table making for a captivating format.
The station I heard is automated. That's fine. Logistics is an issue. You don't run, liners in the middle of Underwriter stop sets. You don't go dead in and dead out in to music from breaks. You always ID you station going in and out because radio listeners are often doing something else and you need to drive home who you are so they will make a mental note to listen again. They used a great news service, FSN. The issue with FSN is the casts are not updated each hour and not on weekends. In addition the British voices might be fine elsewhere but in small Southern towns is surely not local. How about a state news network?
Still another station wonders why they cannot seem to connect to the community. They play music and liners saying their call letters and dial position. That's it. You could put them anywhere in the country and the listener would be none the wiser. Say what you are and what you do and make that your emphasis. By the way, running syndicated programming numerous hours a day is not local and when listeners hear that they assume you are not local.
On the funding side, I have talked to a guy who opens his wallet every month to pays the bills and wonders why this is. He questions if his town is really wanting a station. He has no clue the issue is with him.
Check your format. If you reach 5% and your reach is 10,000, that's not good enough. You'll always be shelling out cash. Check national format trends (Radio Advertising Bureau has some good info for free). Look at your local content. You're not local when you're running 6 hours of nationally syndicated shows every day. Remember you are running a station to serve as many as you can in your service area not what you want.
Check your media kit. I feel like a broken record as I scream again in all caps: THE BEST WAY TO KILL A SALE IS TO TELL CLIENTS WHAT THEY CAN'T SAY!!!!!! I know all about Underwriting Rules and that is your problem, not your client's. What you cannot say on the air you can say on your website. If you are not utilizing your website in just the same way you introduce businesses to your listeners over the air, then you are making a mistake. No, a listing of business names or a scanned business card does not get it. Let your client tell their story.
Your can of worms Underwriting Package might be clear to you but mind boggling to the client. Make it clear and simple. The worst I saw was 'contribute $250 to $499 and get a mention every day for a year'. Let me ask you, who is going to give $499? Nobody. Everyone will write out a check for $250. So, how many times have you bought a 99 cent soft drink at the corner store and told the clerk you know it is just 99 cents but here's $2 instead?.
And don't give me, buy the gold package for $1,000 and you'll get several mentions a week'. What is that? What is several? Spell it out. Be clear.
If you take donations, fine. Just take donations. If you sell Underwriting, just sell Underwriting. Why? Have you ever seen the paper Shamrocks the cashier asks if you want to buy for $1 when you make a purchase? Do you buy one? Does everyone? No. There is a reason. Buying a shamrock is to give money and benefit that money earns to someone other than you. The business community wants a benefit from their money even if it goes to a charity. When you ask for a donation or accept donations, you are saying you have nothing of value to offer and they should give you money for your benefit. You must show value for a price.
Then there's the group that doesn't get why nobody is donating to get the station on the air. Their website says "We are building X community's radio station, donate now'. Let me ask you, how often have you donated to the other stations on the radio dial to get them on the air? What the heck is Community Radio Station anyway? You show absolutely not reason to donate a cent. Think from the donor's shoes. Why should they donate? What's in it for them?
I just love the 'click here for details about marketing your business on... and you get the 'contact us'. Really? How stupid is that? And when you do, you never hear back. Really?
I do not shop at Fry Electronics because I have to jump through hoops to buy from them. I have to locate a product I want, get it taken to the front, stand in line until the cashier sends a runner out to get what I want and then get checked on the way out the door to make sure I get what I wanted (aka not shoplifting). I spend my dollars elsewhere where I can select what I want and take it to the register to pay for it. Too many steps makes me not shop at Fry Electronics. Why? It is too much hassle. If you have that click here, then there had better be a heck of a lot more than contact us. You had better be talking about how great your station is, what you do and how you can connect your listeners to the business. Rates can or cannot be included but be very specific. You might give ideas of business types who can benefit. For example, if you sell Avon, it might be a good idea to say even small cottage businesses like Avon can afford to 'play' on your station and mention larger businesses expanding their reach. In other words, make it darn easy and simple to buy, a no-brainer.
And on the subject of response. If you cannot respond within one business day, why bother? Again, think from their shoes. You deal with businesses and the business world and you better be as serious and dedicated as a business even if you think your LPFM is not a business. To be slow on responding says the potential Underwriter just doesn't matter. Do you get upset going in to a store for help and you can't find anybody nor get the answers you need?
All my issues can be changed easily. They are minor. In fact, I can sum it up in two sentences: 1) write from the reader's point of view. Give them a clear and simple picture, and 2) clearly state who you are, what you do and how the community and business community can embrace you. Your station needs to be a reflection of life in your community in all that you do. Early in my career a wise broadcaster told me if you moved your station to the next town down the road, it shouldn't be successful there. His point is you need to be so local your station would not work anywhere else.
NETWORK AND LEARN EVERY DAY
Those are glorious words but they need to be backed with action. Sure, running a radio station takes more time than you have but knowledge is just as important. It has been said in life you need to learn something new every day. In radio it is true as well.
How you do this is communication. We are in the communications business but not communicating is one of radio's biggest complaints. We need to network, to discover new ideas and concepts. It all makes your job easier and keeps you in the radio race, not to mention your continued success.
You say, right, I want this but I'm clueless how to go about it. Make some cold calls to stations. You will click with some. Share information and ideas. Expand the number you touch base with so you can have a better exchange of ideas.
I think if you will do this you can run your station more effectively and realize you have some of the answers but many more questions as well. It is not just the experienced you can learn from.
Talking with many LPFM stations, I get comments about my years in radio. They seem shocked that I learn so much from them. You get the best fresh ideas from those new in the business and the best operational information from those that have been for years. In many respects, the path the less experienced take is a much tougher path where they have to craft solutions on the fly. The more experienced use a concoction of tried and true methods. There is always room for both.
As one wise radio guy told me: the day you quit learning, get out of the radio business. He was right. Radio is like a moving target. You need to hit the mark every day. It takes new ideas in a recipe with the tried and true to create the right mix.
If you told me about the internet, computers, cell phones and Facebook when I started in radio I would have asked if it would happen in my lifetime. My point is, don't languish in today but move forward in knowledge and new ideas to build a bridge to the future. Radio is trial and error. Best of all everything works and everything fails, so learning your market and cherry picking your options builds a station that not only is customized for your community but one that is pacing itself nicely for the future.
So, build your contact list, discover and know networking and learning are very important aspects in this business. Network with engineers, programming, sales and management but don't forget the wheels that move it all forward, the jocks and behind the scene folks without titles too.
If you'll reach out I think, if anything, you'll restore your faith in humanity. There are lots of great people out there ready to help you to the next level expecting nothing in return.
PUT THIS ON YOUR TO DO LIST
I have not had much sleep. By about sunset showers moved in, turning to heavy thunderstorms by about 10 last night. I tried going to sleep but could never doze off with the intense lightning and thunder. Storms were training. I got up at 3 am and turned on local TV stations that were wall to wall and commercial-free in coverage. Flooding was already beginning. The rain continued. Not just rain but wind, tornadoes and hail. By sunrise the county to the west had received an average of 16 inches of rain. About 11 to 12 inches at my spot and just 5 miles away 20 inches by sunrise as the storms began moving. Maybe you have seen what happened in Houston. 500 year flood records have been met and surpassed by a little. More rain is expected, up to 8 inches possible by Thursday.
Everything is closed. Officials say even if water enters your home, stay there because it is worse outside. Turn off your power, they say. In some areas they're asking for boats to evacuate people. Someone has already calculated the amount of rain that has fallen over Houston would equal the amount of water going over Niagara Falls for 88 hours.
If you are operating a LPFM with this happening, you need to be prepared. The key is to be ready now and hope it never happens. Although it is Houston today, Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornado and the Tuscaloosa tornado come to mind. These are once in a lifetime or longer events. If it happened in your area, what is your LPFM's plan?
I would like to suggest you reach out to emergency and government officials. Make a contact list with phone numbers. Make sure they can include you in releasing emergency information. You can be a vital source of needed information for your immediate area. Trust me, there is nothing worse than not having the way to get needed information for your audience that is counting on you for their safety. In the worst case scenario have arrangements to rebroadcast a TV station covering your area that has a staff in place. Beyond this, you need a list of folks you can count on to get to the station to dispense information. Naturally a visit to the grocery store when a pending event is on the way is certainly a good idea. You may be stuck there. Keep lines open for listeners. 911 might fail or officials simply cannot get to them if they need help (remember they face the same situation as you do). Use social media too.
Simply put, your LPFM can shine if you plan now. Create that list and have detailed instructions. Once an emergency happens you will be so happy you planned ahead.
BE ALL YOU CAN BE IN TIME
By the way, the legacy of the “state of the art” station who started with all the big tools and big money? People remember their big splash and how they failed. All they remember is the failure..