Thursday, April 16, 2009

Returns And Changes

Some assorted stuff in our Thursday update...

PUBLIC EYE RETURN: When long-time CBS Radio AC WDOK/102.1 morning co-host Robin Benzle found herself not waking up Cleveland with Trapper Jack on the station's popular morning show, she lamented that it'd be difficult to find her way back onto the stations seemed to be interested in female hosts who were - as she put it to Plain Dealer media columnist Julie Washington - "giggle queens".

There's no such worry about the Internet, where Benzle has made a return to "the public eye", as she puts it to us.

Benzle tells OMW that her new website focuses on two topics her former WDOK listeners know are dear to her heart - food and travel:

"Each Friday, a new Chow Time cooking video is posted, as well as periodical travel videos. There is a new travel series on my recent trip to Ecuador. There are hundreds of my recipes on the site, travel articles and an online store. New age - new media."

The site even contains a pitch to join Benzle, her husband Eric, and Cleveland Zoo director Steve Taylor and his wife Sarah, on a Kenyan safari trip in late August into early September.

Of course, back at One Radio Lane, Benzle was eventually replaced by Gannett NBC affiliate WKYC/3 programmer Terry Moir, who continues in that role at 13th and Lakeside...

THAT CLEAR CHANNEL ANNOUNCEMENT: Well, at least they tried to put a better spin on it.

Perhaps smarting from the reaction to its "Inauguration Day Massacre", where some 1,800 Clear Channel employees were shown the door nationwide on January 20th, the radio giant tries to make lemonade out of Ryan Seacrest-brand lemons.

The company unveiled a broad look at new local programming strategies, along with a multi-pronged upgrade of its community service commitments, on Wednesday.

Though we don't have a LOT to say that hasn't already been said by wiser folks at various radio trade sites, we've picked up some interesting points that could affect local Clear Channel operations here and elsewhere.

Here, read along with us from the press release:

Clear Channel Radio today announced a multi-point plan to raise the bar for radio programming across all day parts and platforms, including online and mobile. The plan includes the launch of new programming and makes programming and on-air talent that’s proven to be most popular with audiences, available more broadly to local program directors in all markets for all day parts.

That last line is the key here, in our opinion.

And this, from Clear Channel Radio CEO John Hogan, after acknowledging the "particularly difficult economy" that makes it difficult for "some local stations" to develop programming:

Local Clear Channel Radio program directors will have total choice and flexibility in choosing the Premium Choice programming elements. They can elect large portions, single pieces, or none of the offered programming. All of the Premium Choice elements were determined in full consultation with the company’s most experienced and trusted programming and operations managers.

Hogan says that Clear Channel top 40, hot AC and other similar format stations will now have the flexibility and choice to run Ryan Seacrest's "On Air" in any daypart...and that its urban format stations will have the same flexibility with the morning show hosted by former Clevelander Steve Harvey.

WAIT! We're just kidding with that last paragraph. Honest! Well, we think we are. Hogan did not say that. But he did cite Seacrest's success, and that of Harvey:

Over the past two years, the company has rigorously evaluated all of the programming at every station across every day part. Based on tests of the programming elements, audience growth and ratings have grown dramatically.

* On Air with Ryan Seacrest increased audience share in San Francisco by some 86% within three months of beginning its broadcast there; and the show increased audience share in Denver by some 46% in the same timeframe.
* Similarly, Steve Harvey has improved ratings in all 10 markets into which he’s expanded.

While indeed it's fun to poke a little at Seacrest, a successful broadcaster who is pretty much the Poster Child for Bland Programming, we think we've uncovered something here.

Quoting the release:

Clear Channel’s performance analysis tools evaluate a wide range of variables connected to a broadcast program and/or specific on-air talent and identifies properties with significant potential to succeed in other markets. The company believes it is the most sophisticated tool of its type in broadcasting. The performance analysis tool and the Premium Choice program will combine to build the careers of lesser-known talent that consistently outperform their peers.

Ah, but those "peformance analysis tools" appear to be built around the new PPM ratings system:

Content and talent are selected for the program based on the evaluation of new PPM-based audience-measurement reports and data produced by Clear Channel Radio’s proprietary talent performance tool.

Unless we missed something, Arbitron's "Personal People Meter" hasn't yet made it to a single Ohio radio market, and we haven't seen any announcement that the devices will show up in Cleveland, Columbus or Cincinnati any time soon.

They will, eventually, but the kinks are still being worked out of PPM...particularly on the legal side, where various groups and states have weighed in hoping to slow it down or stop it. Or, perhaps, extract legal has already been done in New York.

The result is that "building careers for lesser-known talent", as Clear Channel suggests, may not be happening as quickly for hosts in non-PPM least as part of the use of this Clear Channel "talent performance tool".

If local hosts are brought into regional or national syndication outside of PPM markets, it'll be done the old fashioned way...based on the performance analysis Clear Channel has implemented outside PPM markets.

But it sounds to us like the company is concentrating on bringing local hosts in large markets into other large markets, and then down to, uh, the sticks.

Like, say, a certain Mr. Seacrest.

How does all this affect local program directors, who will presumably still exist in the Clear Channel world - for now, at least?

The company takes pains to say the local PDs will have "a choice", and won't have the "Premium Choice" programming thrust upon them:

Local Clear Channel Radio program directors will have total choice and flexibility in choosing the Premium Choice programming elements. They can elect large portions, single pieces, or none of the offered programming.

Ah, but the current financial realities may well mean that local programmers will basically have no choice but to choose large amounts from the Premium Choice menu, with maybe a small smattering of Local Morning Show pieces added in. "Here, here's a great list of quality programming at a low price - you really can't afford much else." That's just our take.

And we remind readers that this programming release says the company is aiming to "improve program quality for all dayparts"...and makes it clear that the "Premium Choice" offerings are what the company considers to be an improvement in quality.

And as a result, though 1,800 employees aren't being handed their walking papers this week, the moves will certainly result in eventual job loss for local Clear Channel clusters...

LOCAL SERVICE: Together with this release, Clear Channel outlined a multi-point plan aimed at upgrading local community service.

From another company press release:

Clear Channel Radio today announced an impressive new level of commitment to local community affairs that will define a new, higher ‘minimum level of service’ for all markets. The commitment spans five areas: charitable partnerships, public-service announcements (PSAs), local public-affairs programming, local advisory boards, and 24/7 access to station management for local officials.

Though Clear Channel insists that the "local public-affairs programming" won't just be an expanded version of the traditional Sunday morning public affairs show, it's worth noting that considering the above, there'll probably be less of an opportunity for public service the old-fashioned way - by a local host or personality sitting in a local studio most of the day, talking directly to listeners.

(And the aforementioned Ryan Seacrest isn't really doing local remotes out in the community. Even in Los Angeles, really...)

Like pretty much all radio operations, Clear Channel stations run extensive flights of public service announcements, and always have.

This grand promise to extend those announcements may have one driving force Clear Channel's John Hogan doesn't talk about - the reduction in sales of spot inventory, due to the economic recession, certainly leaves a lot more available on-air time to run those PSAs.

We'll be watching Clear Channel's promise for "extended engagement" with community groups, and "local advisory boards" to help the company's stations meet public service needs...and localize public service messages.

And presumably, the "24/7 access" to local management is meant to answer frequent company critics, particularly over that infamous situation of the Minot ND toxic train derailment - when local public safety agencies complained that they couldn't just call up the local radio station and get the word out.

We've gone on at length about that here, but in brief: there were many issues in that situation, and we don't place the onus on Clear Channel for the Minot Situation nearly as much as some others do.

For one, the local officials seemed clueless about the use of existing emergency broadcast procedures, and for another, the potential over-air listenership of all Minot radio stations in the middle of the night is less than the number of people reading this blog right now.

Instead of lamenting that they couldn't "just call up the station" or reach the apparent single employee in the building who wasn't seeing the incoming phone call, local officials in Minot would have been better served activating sirens in the affected area - either fixed, or via their own police and fire vehicles.

Commercial broadcast receivers don't activate an alarm when an EAS alert is issued, and weather radios are few and far between in homes. If every Clear Channel-owned station in Minot had gone live with disaster coverage in the early morning hours, many would have slept right through it.

(This isn't to say they shouldn't have done so...they should have, in some form. But that the reality is that those who are not awake - can't listen to the radio, though those awake could have presumably awoken others.)

Anyway, we suggested at the time that officials in Minot and other areas, and local radio operators, would be well served by ensuring that public safety agencies had 24/7 phone/pager contact with managers at the stations - and that appears to be one prong of this Clear Channel plan.

We always applaud an increased commitment to link radio stations and their communities, so we're not going to throw brickbats at Clear Channel for this announcement.

And despite the criticism it gets, the company is no stranger to local public service or community commitment. Just within the scope of our coverage area, a high-profile Clear Channel hot AC outlet (WKDD/98.1 in the Akron/Canton area) raises large amounts of money for a local children's hospital each and every year.

But with a move towards imposing more media "localism" gaining steam in Washington, this could certainly be seen as a preemptive strike by the company...

DAVE AND JIMMY TWO: Presumably, WNCI/97.9 Columbus-based morning team "Dave & Jimmy" would be one example of a local show that parent Clear Channel will continue to grow in syndication.

For the moment, though, OMW hears that "Dave & Jimmy" are about to lose their second affiliate in two weeks.

As we reported, the show was recently dispatched from sister Clear Channel top 40 WDKF/94.5 "Channel 94-5" just down I-70 in Dayton, with the station now encouraging listeners via its website to "embrace a change" in morning drive.

We are not, for the moment, reporting details on the second affiliate loss. For one, we're listening to the web streaming audio of the affected station - and "Dave & Jimmy" are still airing there.

But we will say that the affiliate in question is NOT in Ohio...


J. Moses(Tri-State Media Watch Editor) said...

The other interesting thing to note is remembering that Arbitron and Nielsen will eventually overlap in Youngstown for radio ratings...but you're right, I have not heard anything about the meters coming to this area...

bgsufn said...

The 24/7 access has a more literal meaning as a mandate came down on high that each building will be staffed 24/7. In NW Ohio, that means paying a part-timer $8.00 per hour to sleep at the radio station.

Chuck Matthews Blog said...

I thought it was a FCC reg that at least one person had to staff a station(s), even overnights?