By: Art Vuolo, Jr.
Your seemingly always traveling radio reporter is finally done traveling. I've been to a plethora radio conventions, and this last one (or should I say last two) was a real eye-opener. In Austin, TX the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Radio & Records (the leading radio trade publication) co-located their conventions in the Capital of Texas. The city's moniker is "Keep Austin Weird!" Some called it "Ann Arbor on steroids."
In past years each of these confabs was so big that they could only be held in major markets like: Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco. The first of these "combo-conventions" was also in a big city; Dallas and at a huge hotel...The Hilton Anatole, but in 2007 it moved to Charlotte, NC and this year to Austin, TX. The reason for locating in smaller cities, is that fewer and fewer people are going to these gatherings and it's a sad commentary. I spent nearly all of my time on the R&R side of the street in the Hilton Hotel with the shorts and T-shirts, while the "suites" from the NAB populated the Austin Convention Center across the street.
The attendance at BOTH conferences was noticeably off from previous years. That was a shame, because the sessions were very good and the rooms had a lot of empty chairs. One of the most popular events was a sort of convention within the convention called the Jacobs Media Summit hosted by Detroit-based Jacobs Media. Most of their sessions were standing room only. Congrats to Fred, Bill and Paul Jacobs for a job well done. As is the case at most of these gatherings, the number of broadcasters from the Detroit area was light.
WRIF was the big local winner again this year with Doug Podell getting program director of the year in the rock category. Mark Pennington got rock music director of the year and WRIF won top active rock station in markets 1 through 15. I asked WRIF PD Doug Podell if he came with an extra empty suitcase just to carry back all of the awards Detroit's Home of Rock & Roll always seems to win...and if he flew Southwest Airlines his bags would fly free. That alone is helping propel Southwest, especially among we in the broadcasting industry always looking for a bargain. In fact, after the Austin conventions I went to Albuquerque, NM for a whirlwind 46 hour visit. While at the ABQ airport checking my bags for my return trip last Monday, who do I see behind the Southwest ticket counter, but Mr. Gary Kelly, the President and CEO of the airline! He was there in just a sport shirt and slacks helping personnel getting baggage onto the belt. I was amazed. He is a very real person and a nice man who was extremely approachable. He is one of the primary reason's Southwest is a friendly and profitable company. If broadcasters would run radio stations for the people, in stead of the stockholders, perhaps the industry would be in better shape.
Back to the last two conventions of the year. The key "buzz word" this year was CONTENT. All people were talking about is the product that goes out over the air. Wow, what a concept. Hold the front page. That news is about as stunning as the news that Clay Aiken is gay. Ever since Ellen DeGeneres nobody cares. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the NAB's Marconi Awards (radio's Oscar's) which was hosted by TV (and now radio) star Billy Bush, who was surprisingly good. At my table were WLAV-FM Grand Rapids PD Rob Brandt and longtime afternoon drive personality, Tony Gates, the only two nominees from Michigan, and BOTH walked away with Marconi Awards! What a special night and huge kudos to Rob and Tony most deserving recipients.
One of the more interesting sessions centered on the fact that radio is getting FAR more visual. One panelist said "it used to be that radio stations had a web site...now web sites have a radio station." This is to say that if a radio station lacks lots of photos and streaming video on their site, it will not generate the type of traffic Internet advertisers crave. It was suggested that all radio station employees and especially the air talent should have some sort of digital video camera. More and more programs will be web-cast so listeners can see "behind the curtain." Most people feel that Don Imus and Howard Stern were the innovators of this technology, but actually legendary talk radio personality Joey Reynolds at New York's WOR Network was doing an overnight radio show on 50,000 watt KOA (AM 850) in Denver back in 1982 while it was also being simulcast LIVE on KOA-TV Channel 4! That was over 25 years ago.
The Bob & Tom Show, heard everywhere in Michigan, except in the Detroit area, is next to make the jump to TV via Tribune Broadcasting in Chicago. It's primarily, the concept of Sean Compton, former "boy wonder" at Clear Channel corporate in San Antonio, who has segued to WGN America, the super-station from The Windy City. Compton, like myself, is a fan of the syndicated morning show that showcases more comedians than any other in the nation, and it will be videotaped with multiple cameras each morning. It will then be edited into a one hour "Best Of" which will air at midnight EDT on WGN-TV which is available on most cable systems and satellite TV. It will premier on November 3rd, the day before the presidential election.
Often I wonder why some of these really entertaining shows are not available on our local AM and FM dial, but I must admit that I am listening to more Detroit area stations than ever. I have both Sirius and XM at home and XM in the car, but of late, I feel that a number of local stations are sounding better than ever. I do wish WOMC, Oldies 104.3 would team up Jo-Jo Shutty MacGregor with Ted "The Bear" Richards for traffic reports like she did during the Woodward Dream Cruise. I also wish WJR would provide a platform for Paul W. Smith so that he could exercise his personality more. Paul is actually a very funny guy, but needs guests who can bring out his excellent sense of humor.
Oddly enough the over-all picture painted by the NAB Convention is that although radio needs change and up-dating, things are not really all that bad. At the R&R topics were far more realistic. The miserable economy is greatly affecting what you hear on the air these days. HD Radio is suffering because broadcasters do not have enough money too adequately program their primary channel, so how are they expected to properly program these "secondary" signals which are available to a still very limited audience? Life, and everything in it, including your favorite stations, is like comedy....timing is everything!
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The journalistic community is still reeling from the news out of Chicago at Sun-Times Radio & TV columnist Robert Feder (Feeder) is leaving the paper in the coming weeks (after 28 years) to explore other opportunities. Feder was to Chicago what John Smyntek is to the Free Press. Interestingly, Smynty is also taking advantage of what is basically a "buyout" from the paper. If the Freep is looking for someone to take over the radio news, I can think of two people who will work for less than one.
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Lastly, it's nice to hear that former WOMC midday host Dana Lundon-Masucci is back on the air; she's now doing weekends with pop WDVD 96.3.
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As the leaves change in the coming weeks so will the radio dial, and Mike and I will try to keep you up to date with it all.