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Chriss Scherer Scherer has been the editor of Radio magazine since 1997. His experience in radio includes work as chief engineer at stations in Cleveland (WMMS-FM, WHK-AM, WZJM-FM, WJMO-AM...more

Archive of the Industry Category

Really listening to the radio

I had some time on the road driving a route from Kansas City to Joplin, MO, to Indianapolis, to Cincinnati and back to Kansas City. While the 1,400 miles can be fatiguing, there is one aspect I look forward to: Listening to the radio.

When I drive through St. Louis, Indianapolis and Cincinnati (my hometown), I of course seek out the big heritage stations I know. But these aren’t the highlight of the trip. It’s what I hear in the smaller towns that reminds me of what radio is all about.

A few times in Missouri and Illinois I heard a news break that covered commodities and farm reports. Anticipated yields from the sales of crops and livestock don’t figure into my daily life, but those station listeners certainly listened for the details. I heard about several county fairs, weekend swap meets, upcoming holiday activities (this trip was a few weeks before Independence Day), and church or school functions. I heard a few classic remotes from the local appliance store and car dealer. I heard a few contests with a grand prize provided by a local merchant.

It was real radio. Radio for the public. As I zipped down the Interstate, the local community was moving at its regular pace and listening to the radio. Those local stations are an integral part of their communities. Sure, any radio station has an important role in the local community, but that role is amplified in these smaller towns.

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During an emergency, turn to Twitter?

I received a press release from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region VII saying that the agency is now using Twitter. Why not? Everyone is using some form of social site to post information. Region VII administers FEMA programs and coordinates disaster response in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, by the way.

According to the release: “The Web-based, social-media tool will allow FEMA to instantly communicate with emergency responders, citizens, and members of the media to gather and disseminate important disaster-related information.”

More from the release: “Regional staff will post on Twitter details about FEMA’s disaster-response, the progress of recovery efforts, and links to press releases or other documents that explain our mission and current efforts. When logged into a Twitter account, users can also make statements or ask questions. Some examples of how Region VII plans on using Twitter include:

  • Tweeting messages regarding situation reports in an active disaster (in coordination with appropriate state agencies).
  • Retweeting official announcements from local, state, and other federal agencies.
  • Notifying users when press releases or officials statements are issued.
  • Providing links and information on recently released video and photos.

    Want to follow it? www.twitter.com/femaregion7.

    I suppose there’s some value to this. If it’s easy to create the fed, why not, right? The more info that can be sent the better. I’m not sure who is going to turn to Twitter when a crisis occurs, but apparently Region VII thinks it’s a good idea.

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    Mr. Grammarman

    This relates to with radio, but bear with me.

    We all have pet peeves. Some of my peeves deal with English. I’m not perfect, but I think I’m pretty good.

    This time it’s about “you.” Or as I keep hearing more and more, “you guys” and “you all” (or “y’all”).

    I find it funny that so many people try so hard to make “you” an obvious plural. “You” is singular and plural in modern English, and except in rare cases, it’s obvious when “you” is meant to be singular or plural. So why do so many feel the need to use “you guys” so often?

    What’s ironic about the forced plural is that historically, “you” was only plural. (“Ye” was also used.) The singular was “thou” or “thee.” Over time, “you” become a formal singular usage and then finally replaced thee/thou for familar usage.

    Back to the present, the most absurd use of “you guys” is when it is made possessive. “Is this your guys’ store?” where it sounds like “Is this your guises store?” Just today i saw someone write “What is your all’s preference?”

    The connection to broadcasting? Listeners hear language misused on the air and tend to repeat it. While colloquialisms and regional speech are part of localism, broadcasting should set an example. It’s almost to the point where non-native English speakers speak English better than the native speakers.

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    Sales Pitch or Education?

    You know I’m active with the Society of Broadcast Engineers. I’m the newsletter editor for the Kansas City chapter 59. I also often help arrange meeting programs for my chapter. I have helped arrange chapter programs for nearly 20 years, and I’m still surprised that engineers and manufacturers too often mismanage the symbiotic relationship. Many manufacturers still want to provide a straight-out sales pitch. Many engineers accept these programs or give away even more excusive access to the qualified audience than they should. By working together, the needs of the manufacturer and the chapter can be accommodated with better results for both.

    Recently, I had to prepare a chapter meeting announcement. I worked with the chapter member assigned to arrange the program. After multiple requests for information about the meeting, I was finally given a program topic and nothing more. I asked for a description of the topic and the name of the presenter. I received a definition of the key term in the topic, and name that included a job title a “bio” that read: “[Name] has 35 years of broadcast industry experience.”

    Obviously I pushed for more information, and I tempered that request with some of the points I list below. The next item I received was a flyer about the company’s touring road show. The flyer basically said that this company was the leader in several aspects of broadcast technology, and all its products would be on display.

    Again, I told the coordinator that this was worthless for a meeting announcement. The coordinator went back to the company one more time, and the manufacturer replied that he would like us to promote the company’s road show, which is why he was in town in the first place.

    How nice. The manufacturer expected the chapter to do his PR work for him. He never provided any additional information about the original program topic. The end result: the meeting announcement was weak, few members attended, and the manufacturer was dissatisfied with the turn out.

    What could have changed? Plenty, but mainly, an educational topic with a clear description would have attracted more attendees. I have my own method of arranging chapter programs, and there are a few regular steps I take. While I don’t expect to arrange all the programs myself, I am working with this coordinator to improve the methods he uses.

    Here are my tips on getting the maximum effect for both manufacturers and chapters.

    Teach us first.
    A chapter meeting provides a captive audience. This audience knows when the program is pure pitch and when it’s is truly educational. If you start with a pitch, you lose them from the start.

    Avoid the sales pitch.
    If possible, eliminate the sales pitch. Like I said before, teach us first. Now we also know that there is a cost involved in this process. Companies exist to make money, and they make money by selling equipment and services. Save the sales element for the end. Better yet, once you have taught the audience something, tie it into your product to show a real-world example.

    Put yourself in the audience’s place and consider the program.
    Would you sit through the presentation on why you should buy the condominium? Even if it’s the best condominium in the world? Unless you really wanted a condo, probably not, and even then, if the presentation only covered how great that condo is, you probably would not want to hear it. Chapter meetings are the same way.

    Provide a detailed program description that encourages people to attend.
    Write the description so engineers will feel they are missing out if they are not there. Include why the topic is important. Don’t assume the potential attendee knows the topic in-depth.

    A chapter meeting delivers a prime, targeted audience that has value to the presenter.
    Don’t give it away. I hear lots of chapters rejoice that they have a program, yet the program itself may have no real value to the chapter. Chapter members can read a product sell sheet online. Don’t waste time by bringing a group together only to be told how great a product is.

    Define the chapter’s expectations.
    Be careful not to demand too much, or the presenter will either decline or expect just as much in return.

    Suggest providing a meal, but don’t require it.
    It’s no secret that feeding an engineer increses the chances of him attending. If the chapter requires the presenter to pay for a meal, it makes the presentation a sales effort from the start. The presenter is there to promote his company and product. If he has a mandatory cost involved, he wants something in return.

    Beware of claims that a program is purely educational.
    Just because the presenter says it’s not a sales pitch doesn’t mean it’s not. I know of one presenter who says he doesn’t know the price of the equipment, so it can’t be a sales pitch. Not true. It’s still a sales pitch, but it also makes that presenter a bad sales person. And honestly, if it’s the greatest technology in the world, it’s still useless to a station if it costs $100 billion.

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    I call myself an engineer

    The term “engineer” is used frequently in many industries. It means different things depending on its context. In my case, I’m a radio broadcast and audio engineer.

    Using the term engineer causes some people to take a defensive stance. It seems that many of these people are state-certified professional engineers as well. (Not all the defenders are PEs, but it seems many of them are.)

    I admire anyone who holds a PE. That’s quite an accomplishment. But I see that accomplishment recognized by referring to that person as a PE or professional engineer, not just an engineer.

    Despite this, the argument is raised regularly. Should those who do not hold a state-issued professional engineer designation be allowed to call themselves an engineer? I think they should be allowed.

    Some caution is due. If someone is using the services of an engineer, the person authorizing the work should ensure that the people he is hiring is qualified, regardless of a state-issued certificate. I would never represent myself as being qualified to design a bridge. Likewise, I know plenty of PEs who have no business popping the lid on a piece of audio equipment.

    However, we are both engineers.

    Something for clarification from Merriam Webster (edited):

    Etymology: Middle English engineour, from Anglo-French, from enginer to devise, construct, from engineering
    1: a member of a military group devoted to engineering work
    2 a: a designer or builder of engines b: a person who is trained in or follows as a profession a branch of engineering c: a person who carries through an enterprise by skillful or artful contrivance
    3: a person who runs or supervises an engine or an apparatus

    2b and 2c apply to me.

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    What you say and how you say it

    I recently had a conversation with another broadcast engineer that reminded me that how you say something is just as important as what you say. As engineers, we tend to interface with equipment just fine. Sometimes our people interface isn’t always the best.

    The other engineer was telling me about some work he was being asked to do. The tasks in the assignment were clear, but there were some contingencies involved. Mainly, if the initial steps of the project were done within a certain time frame, the later steps would be easier to accomplish and more likely to be accomplished successfully. Sounds simple enough, right?

    This engineer explained the time sensitivity to the person assigning the work. The engineer outlined the cause and effect of the tasks and the timeline. He explained that as delays from management were introduced it would make the final result less likely to be successful. Again, sounds simple.

    The problem is that engineer didn’t explain all this with an approach that built on a teamwork relationship between himself and the managers. He instead took a logical approach and presented it as if this then that scenarios, but he put a condition on the project by saying that if the management won’t agree to the strict timeline for the later tasks, he won’t waste his time on the initial tasks. Basically, he told them it’s his way or no way.

    There are certainly times to take such a hard approach. Contract engineers know that some clients have to be handled in absolutes. In this case, the engineer was not to that point. By forcing the management to do it on his terms, he effectively told them he wasn’t going to take on the project.

    He got his way on the project. He didn’t have to do it. But I know the relationship between the engineer and the management has been damaged.

    The better way to handle the situation would be to explain the cause and effect of not staying on the timeline, and getting management to buy in on the idea. This would also involved giving the management specific parts of the project, again stressing that they affect the outcome.

    I see this hardball approach too often at stations. Sometimes it’s part of the us/them mentality that engineers have toward management. Sometimes it’s just the analytical and logical engineering mind putting things into specific and concrete terms.

    We’re all salesmen in our jobs. Some people sell tangible goods. Some sell intangible goods (like radio air time). Some sell ideas. Sell your idea. Make your client (the management) your partner in your work.

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    Rehr is stepping out

    The news that David Rehr was leaving the NAB came as a surprise to everyone. Granted, you don’t let anyone peak at the hand you want to play.

    I met Rehr on several occasions. I’ll give him credit for the direction of the NAB over the past 3.5 years. He is something of a showman, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. He likes to talk to an audience with a wireless lavaliere and without a podium. He speaks with passion about whatever the topic is. I have watched him at receptions making the rounds where he has to repeat the same message 30 times to different small groups, but each time he has the same enthusiasm in his voice.

    The NAB has had some interesting battles during his term. Some have been lost (satellite radio merger, which was a losing battle from the start despite the NAB’s huge fuss over it). Some are still be fought (terrestrial radio performance fees). In general, I think Rehr has been effective at bringing the NAB into a more current view of broadcasting and its part of the current electronic media state.

    There’s no word yet on what Rehr is going to do next.

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    Cutbacks everywhere

    Just after the NAB Show we heard that Clear Channel had another round of layoffs. Unfortunately, some good workers lost their jobs thanks to an ailing economy. I know other companies have dealt with layoffs as well.

    Some companies are shifting to a shortened work week as a way to trim costs without letting people go. While shifting to a four-day work week has its social and recreational advantage, it’s not easy for some people to take a 20 percent drop in pay. Still, it’s better to have a job than no job.

    If you’re unemployed, getting a job is priority one. If you have been cut back in hours, take advantage of the extra time. Pick up some contract work. Take a class at the local college. Volunteer your time to a worthwhile cause.

    It’s easy to be bitter about the change in your business life, but rather than dwell on the negative aspect, turn it into a positive. You might even find a better job in the process.

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    Language, please

    The title probably makes you think about swearing. That’s not the point this time.

    I’m more and more annoyed with the lack of attention being paid to language today. I don’t expect everyone to be an award-winning language expert, but I would like to see some attention paid to using language properly.

    This is about English. My concern is not with those who speak English as a second language (although there are plenty of English-second speakers who have a better understanding of English the English-first speakers), but with those of us who grew up with a language and use it every day.

    What appalls me most is when I hear radio and TV announcers and news reporters butcher the language. The awful mistakes heard over the airwaves are repeated by the audience. These errors are like nails on a chalkboard to me.

    Some examples:
    “Have went” (instead of went or have gone)
    “There is” (usually as the contraction “there’s”) when it should be “there are” (example: There’s many cars on the highway.)
    Misspellings on TV crawls

    Some errors in writing that are common:
    Its (possessive of it) vs. it’s (contraction of it is)
    Your (possessive) vs. you’re (contraction of you are)
    There (adverb) vs. their (possessive pronoun) vs. they’re (contraction of they are)
    Apostrophes on plurals (essays is the plural, essay’s is the possessive)

    When speaking without a script, some errors are bound to occur. I can live with that. But the proliferation of errors I see in prepared material is just not acceptable.

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    Happy birthday, Sam

    Today (April 27) is Samuel Morse’s birthday. You should know this because it’s listed on the Radio magazine radio history page.

    This morning when I used Google I noticed the homage paid to the man known for his digital (in a sense) code. You know that Google likes to modify its logo for various events. Today’s brought a smile to my face:

    Happy birthday, Sam.

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