Monday, February 26, 2007

The Attackers At The Gate!!

I was visiting a friend of mine last week, who owns several stations in Virginia, and we were discussing the current state of the radio business. We both agreed that these are interesting and turbulent times. Direct to consumer satellite program delivery has changed many of the rules and made the radio game much more challenging.

In my opinion though. the real threat on the horizon is WiFi. Radio executives are ringing their hands and fretting over the growing strength of satellite and justifiably so. But they seem to be ignoring altogether the real challenge WiFi broadcasting will represent...very soon. Imagine, if you will, getting into your car, slipping your cellphone into a cradle on your dashboard, punching a few keys and suddenly receiving your favorite Internet radio broadcast. The signal will be digital and as good as satellite. And wherever there is WiFi service, you'll have access to shows that interest you. And don't poo poo WiFi service. The day will come, in the not to distant future, when it will be everywhere. Think of how cell service has improved over the years. Not too long ago we were talking into phones the size of bricks that had very limited range. It's improved so much, in a short time, that we now become irritated when we drop a call or are in a poor service area. And already there are hundreds of Internet only stations out there; many offering programs that are much more interesting than the run of the mill fare found on traditional terrestrial radio.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. The key to radio's future is the aggressive implementation of creative programming. And they can't wait until the attackers are at the gate because if they do, it will be too late. Radio can't be content with offering the same old, same old. It has to be aggressive, bold and innovative. If they remain complacent then the new kids on the block are going to muscle them out of a market and make them an afterthought.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


NOTE: Hi friends. I'll be traveling on business for a couple of days so I invite you to peruse the other posts while I'm away. Just click a link on the left. I should be back again no later than Monday. Take care. Jim

Yesterday's Post...


We buried a boy from the neighborhood yesterday; a young, handsome man, at the start of his life. His family owned a food store, here in town; he bagged my groceries, he went to a church just down the road and he graduated from the same high school as my children. He was twenty-two...twenty-two!

How can someone that young leave so soon? It seems that Sargent Russell Kurtz had a sense of duty far beyond his years. His belief in freedom, honor and country was rock solid...unshakable. Sometimes you wonder how someone so young can have such conviction.

While the Representatives and Senators in Washington are acting like children...this child was acting like a man. He was in Iraq, dealing with the challenges of war. It was there, near Fallujah, that a roadside bomb exploded and took his life.

Like many Americans, my position on this war has vacillated. Sometimes I'm confident that we're doing the right thing and other times I'm not so sure. I think the President himself must feel this way. I do believe that we're engaged in this struggle for noble reasons. We are the undisputed leader of the free world. We believe in the importance of liberty and the dignity of man. As a nation, we have a responsibility to the rest of the world. If we don't acknowledge that responsibility then who will? What will happen to those who can't defend themselves?

We can debate the war ad infinitum, but we can never debate the courage, goodness and decency of brave young people like Russell Kurtz; the young boy from the neighborhood, who grew up to be a hero.

Thank you Russell. Godspeed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We Buried A Boy From The Neighborhood...

We buried a boy from the neighborhood yesterday; a young, handsome man, at the start of his life. His family owned a food store, here in town; he bagged my groceries, he went to a church just down the road and he graduated from the same high school as my children. He was twenty-two...twenty-two!

How can someone that young leave so soon? It seems that Sargent Russell Kurtz had a sense of duty far beyond his years. His belief in freedom, honor and country was rock solid...unshakable. Sometimes you wonder how someone so young can have such conviction.

While the Representatives and Senators in Washington are acting like children...this child was acting like a man. He was in Iraq, dealing with the challenges of war. It was there, near Fallujah, that a roadside bomb exploded and took his life.

Like many Americans, my position on this war has vacillated. Sometimes I'm confident that we're doing the right thing and other times I'm not so sure. I think the President himself must feel this way. I do believe that we're engaged in this struggle for noble reasons. We are the undisputed leader of the free world. We believe in the importance of liberty and the dignity of man. As a nation, we have a responsibility to the rest of the world. If we don't acknowledge that responsibility then who will? What will happen to those who can't defend themselves?

We can debate the war ad infinitum, but we can never debate the courage, goodness and decency of brave young people like Russell Kurtz; the young boy from the neighborhood, who grew up to be a hero.

Thank you Russell. Godspeed.

Monday, February 19, 2007

It's Just Business!

It's amazing how so many good and talented people pour their hearts and souls into the radio business and get so little in return. It is an unrequited love. They're attracted to something that no longer exists. The 'stardom' and 'celebrity' that was once commonplace is a rare commodity these days.

When I made my broadcasting debut, radio talent were respected and rewarded. I venture to say that they were even admired. Management seemed to have a greater concern for the people on the air. But over the years things have changed. Deregulation and advancements in technology have played a big part in the diminution of the talent's position. Granted, they were always considered to be replaceable but the loss of a productive and popular jock was more pronounced back then. In recent times it causes less concern than the automation crashing. I know people, with years of experience, at legendary radio stations who are as insecure as those in the smaller markets; maybe even more so because they have more to lose. They've watched friends and coworkers as they were abruptly and unceremoniously removed from the ranks of the employed; many times for no good reason. It seems to be accepted practice these days; it's just business.

In my opinion it's bad business. When you fire someone, on a whim, it usually effects more than that one person. It touches their family, friends and business associates. And it hurts radio too. There was a time when you'd meet someone and tell them that you were on the air and they'd tell you how lucky you were and how much they wanted to do what you do. Today, word has gotten out. Now, when you tell them that you're on the air they look at you like you have three heads. They know about the mergers, the firings, the turmoil and the insecurity of the business. They know how it has treated some good people and, more often than not, they want nothing to do with it.

This industry that I love, once had character. It's lost a lot of that and the sad part is, it may be gone forever. Hopefully the people in our industry will prove me wrong.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Repost-What's Happened to Radio? (Just In Case You Missed It The First TIme)

There was a time, not too long ago, when creativity was encouraged; when programming ingenuity was valued. It was a time when there was a balance between sales and programming. Radio air talent were admired for their originality. I can assure you that that time has passed. These days radio stations are run like fast food franchises. Air talent are considered a necessary nuisance and their numbers are kept to a minimum.

Now the upper echelon of the industry are wondering what is happening to the business? Audiences are shrinking! Why? Maybe it's because, for at least a decade, radio has ignored the 'product'. Back in 'the day' cutting edge programming was it's hard to find. Conglomerates have homogenized the system and curtailed creative growth. Once there were places where fresh young talent could go to make their mistakes, hone their skills and move on. Once there was a time when struggling stations took creative chances.

Radio has lost a lot of it's 'fire' and it sounds like it. Back in the seventies, when I had the good fortune to work at great stations such as WDRC, WBZ and WCBS-FM, the industry was 'alive' with new ideas. Stations took pride in the 'product'. Today the environment is different and radio has no one to blame but itself.
Back in the fifties, radio blamed TV for an industry wide depression. It's doing the same thing today when it points the finger at New Media. Trust me, New Media isn't the culprit. If you must blame someone then blame ownership or radio's high level decision makers. They've eliminated air staff and cut back on the product for years. They underestimated their audience; figuring that the listeners would settle for what they give them and never catch on. Local programming became bland and predictable.

Imagine, if you will, a car company that is run by people who don't know what it takes to actually make a car; run by a management team top heavy with sales types and lacking in automotive engineers. Chrysler was that way, and it almost disappeared from the automotive landscape, until a former engineer named Lee Iaccoca took control of the company. Japan made it's biggest inroads in the US car market during the eighties when General Motors was more concerned with quantity than quality; more interested in sales than service. All Honda, Toyota and Nissan had to do was fill that void. New Media is giving listeners creative programming options. It's a hard thing to have to say but there are very few truly creative people in radio today. Most programmers follow the tail of some other programmer who, in turn follows the tail of the programmer in front of him. An original thought or idea is a rare thing in today's radio.

The good news is that radio woke up back in the late fifties and early sixties; it rolled up its sleeves and went to work and by the mid-sixties it was in the midst of the 'second' golden age of radio. It can do it again, but has to think outside of its very limited box; it has to stop thinking like bankers and get back to thinking like 'creative' broadcasters.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Radio Needs To Smile More :)

I miss a good laugh in the morning. I mean a real...honest to goodness, spontaneous, straight from the gut, feel-good... LAUGH . I'm sorry if I sound like an old fump...but I swear...morning radio used to be a whole lot funnier. And the entertainers that I remember (and some that I used to work with) were more like comedians than jocks. They were into timing and production values. And, you know, I believe that audiences miss the laughter too. Think about it for a second. It's really hard to find!

What do we offer our listeners today? Well...let's see...we have our Morning Zoo's and show hosts with names like Magpie and Mongo. We've got talent who think that being crude is being funny. We have pranksters pulling outrageous stunts and talent talking trash. And, more often than not. the only people laughing are the characters doing the show! At what point did the definition of 'funny' radio change? Did I miss it? When did we start substituting creativity with crud?

It's probably a lot harder to be funny, in the traditional sense, day in and day out. You'd have to really work on your show. These days it sounds like people just grab their prep, hit the mike switch and go!

Don't get me wrong. There are still people out there who could be giants in the morning; they still have the skills and the talent. But more often than not they've been muzzled by management. The ironic thing is that they're often hired because of their funny personality. They're not actually stifled until after they're employed. They're crunched into a restrictive format and forced to change their on-air approach. They become victims of short-sighted management and it's sad.

There was a time when talented programmers hired genuinely funny people and then they'd let them 'run'. They could make you laugh every morning and they usually did. Now, in these deadly serious times, I sure wish that radio would move in that direction again. We all could use more laughter in our lives.

Those are my thoughts...what do you think?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hey radio...'carpe diem'!

Have you noticed that there's a lot of talk about new media versus traditional media? It's causing some consternation in the radio business. Let's face it, many people simply don't know what to make of this thing called 'new media'. It's an interloper; an uninvited guest at the media table. First it was ignored; maybe it would go away. Then there was a rudimentary acknowledgment; stations started building simple, almost obligatory websites (some were pretty bad...some still are), now...many think that they've 'arrived' because they're streaming their station. I think they're kidding themselves.

Why is new media so attractive?
Why has it become the golden boy of the marketing industry?

I think it's because it gives the user the feeling that they're getting something valuable for free. Of course it's an illusion but a well executed one? Look at Google...what a story they have to tell. That company has truly partnered with their patrons. Every time you go to their search engine you feel like they're giving you something; be it quick and easy answers, information at you fingertips, marketing opportunities and even powerful free software. The average Joe is so enamored with Google, the brand name has become a part of our Kleenex. How many times have you heard someone say..."Well then why don't you 'Google' it and see what you find"?

But wait...they're a company...they're worth can they give away all of this 'free' stuff? Like I said's an illusion. Google is one gigantic advertising machine. There are paid announcements all over their site. And the good thing about the Internet is that they get paid up front. They've got your credit card and you've given then authorization to charge their fees to that piece of plastic. There's no waiting thirty to ninety days for their money. Their cash flow is excellent.

So what is radio to do? How does it compete against this attractive newcomer? You don't fight embrace it. It's not an adversary, it's an opportunity. You can incorporate and blend the two medias. Instead of your station's website being an afterthought, it can be an integral part of your operation. And make it immediate and alive, just like your radio station. Include cross-promotional contests; sometimes they can win by going to your site and other times to the station. Make your radio clients want to be a part of your web presence. Give your listeners a chance to download, for free, certain station promotions and features; work out a licensing deal with a software company and give it away on your site. Stick a camera in your studio and 'and make your talent TV stars'.

And don't charge 'club' membership fees. Maybe certain programs and personalities can get away with this, but you want to make it as easy as possible for your listeners to access and use your site...fees are an obstacle and a turn-0ff. However, make it attractive for advertisers and potential advertisers to use their credit cards to buy advertising packages and opportunities online; get in on some of that instant cash flow. Right now you make your money by having your salespeople market advertising opportunities on the air; you can do the same here. And you can track your growth almost instantly; the more people who visit your website, the more you can charge.

Hey radio...'carpe diem'! 'Seize the day!' You have a terrific opportunity here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Who Are We Trying To Impress?

You've got to love radio. It's an amazing business, isn't it? Just when you think you've got it figured out something new comes along. I've been doing this a while and I thought I had a good handle on it but I'll be darned if I can understand why you'd stick a guy's first name on your perfectly good radio station?

"Well Jim, it's all about branding."

Ah...yes... 'branding'. What? Is that supposed to be something new? The only thing new about 'branding' is the name 'branding'. It's an advertising buzzword that crossed-over. You know, sometimes I think that we 'schlock' up the business with words like that, just to impress our peers.

Who starts this stuff?

Is it the pseudo-sophisticated programming consultant? You know the type; the guy who acts Ivy League but actually went to Ivy Tech. Did some lackluster GM somewhere have a vision? No that I think about it, it had to be a consultant. General Manager's and local programmers are too busy doing the day to day stuff. Only someone who makes a living trying to keep his client baffled, confused and dependent would introduce this nouveau vogue term. We've been 'branding' in this business since the beginning of this business. If you don't know this then you don't know radio.

"Well Jim, it's different today. There are unique challenges and opportunities."

Oh...and they are what? Selling a cluster of stations as opposed to just one or two? You've always had to define your station and promote it in the marketplace. It's not new and it's not rocket science. You find a niche, you decide on what it is you want to program, you refine your presentation to your satisfaction, you maintain consistency and you promote your tail off. Radio was that way, radio is that way and radio will always be that way.

I'm sorry but the buzzwords and baloney only confuse the issue. Radio is all about information and entertainment. It's that simple. Great general managers and programmers know that. They realize that the real key is creativity.

Those are my thoughts...what do you think?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Look To Thyself General Motors

In an earlier post (see February 9th in the Blog Archives), I questioned the thinking of the advertising decision makers at one of General Motor's most important brands...Chevy. Their Super Bowl commercial , for the Chevy HHR, was a contest winner, but it made no sense to me. The message was inane and the execution...juvenile. Now, I know that it wasn't directed at me. They were aiming at Gen Y; apparently 'Boomers', still the largest mass of market out there, are obsolete, relics, passe. Just get them a baseball cap, a big old Chrysler and send them on their way to retirement in Florida. I mean, they couldn't possibly want an HHR . Why would they want a Heritage High Roof; a car that, by name and design, is a tip of the hat to something from the Boomer's youth? (Consumer Reports said that it's styling was 'inspired by early 1950's Chevrolet Suburbans'.) Do they think that the older market wouldn't be interested in a fuel efficient small SUV? I guess so. I'll bet that segment of the market buys it's fair share of Subaru Foresters and Honda CRV's.

Betsy Lazar, Director of Media Operations at General Motors, in her keynote speech at RAB said that things were changing at the auto giant. They're not looking for simply the best package if 3o seconds spots anymore...they want station involvement. Oh...and they sliced their traditional ad budget by 600 million dollars! So, if I've got this right, they want a lot more for a lot less. In a recent interview she must've mentioned new media fifty times! (I didn't really count but it was a lot) OK people...that's where they're taking that 600 million. They're putting their money in V.O.D.'s (Video On Demand) and web ads. They're enamored with the 'new media' and they think that traditional media, like the Baby Boomer, is old school.

My feeling is that they're confused and a bit desperate. They seem to believe that their overall business slump is due to poor advertising performance! I say, look to thyself GM. For years you shafted the buyer, in the name of profit. For example, let me tell you my little GM story. I had a 1986 Olds Delta 88 (brand new at the time) that had to have the steering replaced four times...before I sold it (with low mileage) in 1992. Let's see...four complete rack and pinion steering replacements in just under six years...doesn't that sound like a poor product to you? At the time I wasn't the exception...I was the rule. Things were so bad at General Motors, board member Ross Perot, offered to buy the entire corporation and then put millions more into the company to fix it. The other board members, more concerned with their own self-interests, rejected his proposal. Mr. Perot resigned from the board and walked away. General Motors continued to make sub-standard cars into the nineties. By then, I guess their shareholders had had enough and were demanding that GM offer a more competitive product.

Maybe that's why they're going after the younger demo, because they know what they did to the more seasoned market. Their greed and poor business practices pushed us away. They forced me to do something that I said I'd never a Japanese car...a Honda. Since then I've bought several and they've all delivered on quality.

Instead of blaming radio and TV for their sad state of affairs; turning to an unproven advertising delivery system and embracing an MTV approach to their message, GM should think about introducing something like a "Come Back To GM Warranty"... aimed at the hundreds of thousands of people, like me who have had some bad experiences with the auto maker. Make it so ridiculously generous...something along the lines of 200,000 miles, covering every part in the car... former owners will have to give them another chance. And trust won't put them into bankruptcy. They still can afford it. What will put them into bankruptcy is an ill conceived approach to advertising.

Will they get the message? I doubt it. In the meantime, radio executives, if you want some of that 600 million then I'd suggest putting together some packages that will give them a nice presence on traditional radio and a 'new media' opportunity on your station's website...and good luck.

That's what I think...what are your thought?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Is Radio Out of Sync?

Have you ever seen a movie where the audio is not in sync with the video? Doesn't it drive you nuts? I don't know about you but if somebody doesn't fix it quickly they've lost me. This happened with a movie I was watching recently and I found it to be incredibly distracting. I'd be hard pressed to tell you how the story ended. Suddenly I was more interested in the technical snafu and not the storyline. And once, when there was one projectionist for each theater, something like this would be rectified quickly. Now, there's one projectionist for twelve theaters and if something goes wrong in Theater 1 and he's threading Theater 12...well you may be outta luck. One projectionist for twelve screens; it's great when things are working smoothly, but when things are in the hopper...not so much.

American commercial radio is that way. Instead of twelve theaters being serviced by one projection booth we have a cluster of different radio stations coming from the same computer rack. I know, you're saving thousands of dollars, there aren't as many staffing issues, it takes up less space, it sounds 'almost live', so what's the big deal? The 'big deal' is that radio's slice of the pie is shrinking. It's audience is going to other places for entertainment and information.
Radio was always the 'personal' medium; the guy on the air was talking to human to another...there was a connection. Could it be that even the average Joe out there can sense when there's a real live body talking to him as opposed to a Pentium IV on steroids cutting and pasting pre-recorded audio files?

Granted the computer systems are amazing. We can stick an entire radio station in a desktop computer. I have hundreds of songs on a thumb-drive and I have a better selection of oldies on my iPod than the local oldies station. And there's part of the problem. People don't need to go to radio stations any more for their music. They can download that from places like iTunes or even take their old albums and convert them to mp3's. I don't think the powers-that-be in the business have totally grasped that yet. And this migration to other places is not going to end any time soon.

So what can radio offer that you won't find at iTunes. The answer is really very's that human connection that we were just talking about. By it's very nature, talk radio works because of that human connection. Maybe it's time that the music stations started to think about reintroducing real live personalities again. With all of the voice-tracking that's going on these days...placing an actual warm body in the studio might prove to be a novel idea. Some programmers and consultants will say that people get in the way of the music. I mean, could we live without 'non-stop music' hours? What would happen to the station without another 'continuous hour of less talk and more music?" In the long run, it might become more successful.

Consider this. When you think back on the great radio stations of the past fifty you ever think about one that didn't have great personality? WABC in New York wasn't just was Dan Ingram, Harry Harrison, Cousin Brucie and all the other great people who worked behind their mikes. WRKO in it's youth was a music intensive station, but it worked because it had great jocks who knew how to breath personality into an otherwise sterile format. You can trace the beginnings of morning talk icons Imus and Stern to personality music radio.

Making the move back towards personality music radio isn't achieved by merely sticking a live person in studio. It will require some work on the part of the programming department. Every announcer isn't a personality. They'll have to search for good talent. In the old days, programmers would get in their cars and drive to different markets, in search of something 'new'. They might have to start doing that again. And, because radio hasn't been cultivating young talent, it's going to be a harder search.

One of the biggest radio shows in England is Wake Up With Wogan. Terry Wogan is a funny, listener-friendly radio personality. People of all ages like the guy because he surrounds a well thought out mixture of contemporary and classic hit music with great personality. He has an audience of nine million people which is a lot in Great Britain. Some may say that he's successful because he's on government sponsored radio (BBC is commercial free...for the time being. There are rumblings that it's going to commercialize.). I say, listen to the guy and then try and tell me that he wouldn't be popular over here. Personality radio may not be in vogue, here in the US, but it still works.

I realize that a format adjustment such as this might initially have a negative impact on ratings. There will be the inevitable tweaking and fine tuning and it will cost more money to produce this type of programming; good talent isn't cheap and it shouldn't be treated as such. But, I believe that the business is going to have to have suck it up and take the hit until audiences catch on. Radio's only option is to give listeners what they can't get somewhere else. It's the only way that it can stem the tide of diminishing listenership. Radio has got to 'sync up' or listeners are going to find permanent alternatives.

Those are my thoughts...what do you think?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Thoughts on a Cold Sunday in February...

It's a cold Sunday in the upper half of the United States. The streets are relatively quiet, the ground is frozen solid; where there's snow it's not melting, where there's none the grass crunches under your feet. Whiffs of smoke stream from rooftop vents as the overworked furnaces below struggle to maintain a comfortable environment.

There's nothing good on TV. The football season officially ended yesterday with the AFC's victory in the Pro Bowl. I could watch King Kong on HBO but do I really want to waste my afternoon following a lovesick ape-on-steroids? I don't think so. The cable news channels seen to be locked into a handful of stories: Anna Nicole Smith's sadness, Barack Obama's announcement that he's running for President (now there's a surprise) and the shocking reports that there's a lot of snow in upstate New York in February! Remember that all-news radio slogan "Give me twenty-two minutes and I'll give you the world."? Well, I gave them their twenty-two minutes and I'm done.

I knew that I could count on my old Wrong. I've heard the same batch of songs on the oldies station over and over. You know, they play some now more than they played them when they were contemporary hits! Trust me, I know...I was one of those jocks who played them back then. The talk stations are running repeats of some of their weekday programs, which I've already heard, the CHR stations are airing songs that give me a headache, the AC stations are putting me to sleep and other stations are running commercial programming about pets, weight loss or how I can make money in real estate! My goodness how radio has changed. I've read the paper and I've scanned the Internet. What is one to do? But wait, I've found a good book...and I've got just the right tunes on my...iPod. Life is good.

Stay warm. Have a good day and let's visit again tomorrow.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Thoughts on Anna Nicole...and Celebrity

Anna Nicole Smith...what a tragic ending. I didn't really follow her life. Oh, I saw the pictures and was witness to her antics. How could you miss them? I am sorry that the woman passed at such a young age. I think that she lived a horrific life. She was trapped by her own celebrity. Behind that forced glamor smile, I think that we would have found a very sad little girl. Everywhere she seemed to turn there were sycophants pawing at her.

Celebrity is an addiction. As with most addictions, in the beginning it's fun; you have some and want for more. But, after a point, it takes over; it takes on a life of its own and it consumes yours.

Most of us live rather innocuous lives; journeying through our day-to-day existences in relative obscurity. And many of us long for fame and fortune. We imagine ourselves living in the lap of luxury and even fending off the paparazzi. The success of the sleazy tabloids are a reflection of our interest in this lifestyle. It seems so attractive from the outside looking in. But I don't think that it is. It can't be. Look what it did to Elvis, Marilyn, Jean Harlow, Janis Joplin, Jim Hendrix, Jim Morrison... and now Anna Nicole!

We see how they died and immediately point to drug abuse. How many times have we heard someone say, " was the drugs."; almost as if to justify the death. I think that the reality of their mortality reminds us of our own and it frightens us. If we can 'justify' these deaths, by pointing to the abuse, then it seems to make it easier for those of us who are left behind.

If Anna Nicole had never left her small Texas town she would probably be alive today. True, we would never have heard of her; she would have been as anonymous as the rest of us, but she might still be in the land of the living and she might even have been happy! So be careful what you wish for. You may already have what's best for you.

In a few weeks we'll get the toxicology report and find out if there were chemicals in her body. But I can tell you right now that she didn't succumb to drugs. She overdosed on celebrity.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Note to Chevy's Advertising Dept.: WHAT ARE YOU THINKING???

Have you ever wondered what the decision makers behind some of those high end, big budget television commercials were thinking, when they were deciding on what would work? There have always been bad commercials; it's not something unique to the present time. But there do seem to be a lot of them out there these days.

Some of these creatives are truly gifted, but there are others whose work defies comprehension. And the amazing thing is, these people actually land jobs with major advertising agencies or large corporations. Case in point, Chevy's recent Super Bowl ad contest. The winner was nineteen year old college freshman, Katie Crabb from North Prairie Wisconsin. She submitted her idea, made the pitch and her concept became a 2.6 million dollar national commercial for one of America's largest automotive brands. It aired on this years Super Bowl!

Let me pause for a second to congratulate Katie for her perseverance and her effort. She must have worked hard to put her project together.

That being said, have you seen the spot? My God what is going through the minds of the decision makers at General Motors. Here's an American car company, struggling to fend off the overseas competition, and they're investing millions of their stockholder's dollars in an asinine television commercial.

NOTE: If you'd like to see it you can copy the following link, paste it in your address bar and click...

I'm sorry but this approach and concept doesn't come close to working. It's an insult to the viewers intelligence...and an affront to men in particular. For those of you who won't get a chance to watch the commercial, it starts out with Chevy's HHR pulling up to a stop light. The car is filled with good looking young women. Suddenly, every man within walking distance of the vehicle is stripping down to his undies and scrambling to touch the car! What's that all about? There is no set sense to this spot. I don't blame Katie. After all she is only one year out of high school and I guess, considering her age and lack of experience, it's to be expected. But I do think that GM's President and CEO should take a long hard look at Chevy's creative department.

One of the national TV news magazines did a feature on the behind the scenes selection process. It showed five or six finalists making their pitches. Some of the work was really good; contemporary, hip and, if Chevy's target audience is the Y generation, right on the money. The decision makers in this case were Chevy's General Manager and his senior level creative staff. Now the GM is a guy about my age and he sat their trying to look involved; but I think that he must've been thinking about his next meeting. His minions were more concerned with impressing him than selecting the best creative. He must be one of these guys who tells his people to 'think out of the box'...and they did. They were so far out of the box with this selection that they should all be forced to go back to Advertising 101 and repeat the course. I've seen Army training films with better creative and execution. The TV segment interviewed the commercials director, who looked younger than Katie, and he effervesced over the concept and his execution. You couldn't help but wonder if there are any more seasoned Master's out there. Have all the great directors retired?

I would assume that this director made his bones in the world of music videos; where structure is unimportant and outrageousness is all that matters. Nothing is more trendy than advertising. It's always trying to be cutting edge and in touch with it's youngest market and that's fine. But, more often than not, it wrongly assumes that what works with the older audience couldn't possibly work with today's target demo. I say that's nonsense. Truly great creative works on multiple levels. Another spot that ran in the Super Bowl was the Bud commercial with the talking apes. It was funny and everyone in the room got it...old and young alike. And there are some other young contest winners out there who show great promise. If you saw Doritos Super Bowl Contest winning spot, which was written, produced and directed by 21 year old Dale Backus of Raleigh North Carolina, you know that it hit on every was GREAT. And the other finalists in their contest were terrific. (As a matter of fact, there were a bunch that didn't make it to the finals that were wonderful too. You can see for yourself at )

The night before the Super Bowl, CBS ran a special on the all-time best Super Bowl commercials. Viewers were given the chance to vote for the best commercial to ever run during the history of The Big Game. They picked Coke's Mean Joe Greene ad which was created way back in 1979. It works today...28 years after it was produced. People of all ages can still connect with that spot.

I guess that there will always be mind boggling, incomprehensible commercials. We'll always find ourselves asking the question "Who the heck put this together?" Having written, produced and directed commercials though, I must tell you that seeing them produced on a national level, can be a bit discouraging. But to the gifted and struggling talent out there I implore you not to despair; to carry on. American advertising needs you. If you give up we'll be left with more drivel like that Chevy commercial.

That's my thoughts...what do you think?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Stop With The Messages Already!!

There was a time when I used to watch TV to me crazy...entertained. Shows were neutral and, for the most part, a refuge for those of us who were seeking some harmless distraction from a world filled with frightening realities. Oh how things have changed. These days, a show isn't 'cool' unless it sends a political message.

For example. the other night, I turned on one of my favorite TV shows, Boston Legal, and it wasn't long before I felt as if I were in the midst of a political rally. It's a well written program, the cast is terrific and I know that the show has always leaned gently in a certain political direction. But suddenly I wasn't laughing, like I normally do, at the dialog. I found myself angry and feeling as if I'd been deceived. You see, some of my values and moral beliefs weren't simply being challenged, I could have accepted that; they were being assailed, denigrated and ridiculed by the characters on the show or should I say, more accurately, the writers, the producers and ABC. This program wasn't leaning gently, it was listing so hard that it sunk that episode for me. Why did I feel deceived? Because I mistakenly believed that I could trust these people to maintain a certain level of professional neutrality.

I don't want a lecture when I watch an entertainment show. There was a time when you could turn on a show and get away from it all. But with shows like The West Wing, Boston Legal and others there's no escape.

And who died and left them in charge? What makes them think that they have the right answer and it's their obligation to teach us? Most of us are adults. We read, pay attention and have a handle on what's happening in the world. We have opinions and beliefs. Do we really need to have someone who lives in a fairytale world tell us how we should live in the real world?

Contrary to what many in the media would say, it's OK to have your own beliefs. It's arrogant to think that everyone has to be on the same page. It's even more arrogant to think that you have the right to use programming, which is invited into the viewers home, to propagandize, so us uninformed will start thinking straight.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Sample of My First Book - "Squeeze Play"

I'm still getting my sea legs with this 'blog' thing. Technology is wonderful, isn't it? Yesterday I gave you my two cents about the current state of the radio business (It's a good piece, if I do say so myself.). My opinions were based on my three decades in and around that industry. Of course I'll have more to say on that subject later, but not today.
Today, I'm going to chill a bit (an appropriate word on a day when it's 8 degrees outside) and offer you something a little different. You see, this radio guy (meaning me) is also a writer of fiction. Ah, I can see those of you who know me are smiling. I'm a long way from being a Jack Higgins or Tom Clancy but never know. What I'd like to do, in todays post. is give you a sample chapter of my published book, Squeeze Play. It's free and it will give you a taste of what and how I write. If you like it...I'll add more later. Enjoy...and if you're in the Northeastern United States...stay warm.

Chapter One

The executioner glanced at his watch. If it was going to go down, it had to be soon—in a matter of minutes. Any longer and he’d miss his next “appointment.” Then the victim appeared. The killer took a moment to size up his target. The man didn’t seem special. He looked short, overweight, balding and either middle-aged or rapidly approaching that time in life. He seemed nervous and moved as though he expected something to happen. Of course, he was right.

He watched his victim walk down the opposite side of the street, stop at the corner, cross at the light and then walk to a newspaper stand. The killer crossed the street and stopped. His unsuspecting prey took a moment to buy a horse racing newspaper.

Don’t waste your money,” the killer thought. “You’re not gonna be around to read the first page.”

He always fulfilled his contracts. He never missed. Never. He was the king of contract killing, a genuine superstar, the best in the business. Of course, the money was great, but it was the thrill that turned him on. The power, the danger, the hunt—these were the reasons he excelled in this deadly occupation.

He slid his right hand into his coat pocket and gripped the handle of a small revolver. Adrenaline pumped into his system. His eyes darted back and forth, taking in the whole scene. He settled into a fast walk; anything quicker would attract attention. Was he being watched? Had someone zeroed in on him? Another quick look. There were several other people on the street, but no one cared about him. He was just another face in the crowd.

Five steps away, he tightened his grip on the gun.

Four steps, he pulled it from his pocket.

At three steps, he cocked the hammer.

Two steps left, he raised the barrel to the back of the man’s head.

And from a step behind, he fired.

The man dropped to the ground, much like a heavy sack of potatoes would fall if you lost your grip. There was no stumbling, no preliminary weakening of the knees. Nothing like you’d see in the movies. Everything gave, and he was down. The bullet had crashed through his skull and raced into his brain. It was as if the victim had thrown a switch and turned off the lights. He was dead in a heartbeat.

The killer didn’t miss a step. He just kept walking. Half a block away, he stepped into a busy department store and blended with the customers. He knew the layout of the store and walked directly through the men’s department to a rest room in the back of the building. He tossed the gun into a trash container. Then, he moved to the sink and peeled off the fake mustache. He wrapped it in paper, dropped it into the toilet and flushed. He disposed of the Pirates baseball cap and driving gloves, combed his hair and reversed his jacket.

On his way out of the store, he stopped and bought a couple of dress shirts, a pair of Dockers and some aftershave. He had walked into the store an escaping murderer looking for a place to hide, and left, an average, run-of-the-mill customer.

Down the street a crowd had gathered around the dead man. In the distance could be heard the scream of an approaching siren. “An ambulance,” the killer thought. There was already more than the normal number of police cars at the scene.

He was overcome by a morbid curiosity. He walked back to the crowd. An attractive young woman stood off to one side, surveying the situation.

The killer smiled and she politely smiled back.

“What’s all the commotion?” he asked.

“I’m not really sure,” she answered. “There’s a man on the ground over there, in the middle of the sidewalk. I think he’s hurt pretty bad.”

“How’d it happen?”

“I don’t know!”

There was a pause in the conversation and then he continued, “Why don’t we just go over there and find out.”

The killer and the bystander walked closer, as if they were old friends. They maneuvered through the crowd of people until they were just a few feet from the body. The victim was lying face down, in a pool of dark red blood.

“My God! Is he dead?” the young woman asked.

“I don’t think so. I think I saw him move,” a spectator volunteered.

The response startled the assassin. “He looks dead to me,” he said.

“With that much of his head missing, he’s dead.” It was the voice of a policeman, standing just to the other side of the killer.

The murderer tried not to look relieved. “Wow! How’d it happen?”

The policeman took out handkerchief and wiped his mouth. “Damned if I know. He sure pissed off somebody, and from the looks of it, that somebody hired a professional.”

The young woman seemed genuinely surprised. “You mean this is a gangland hit?”

The cop shrugged his shoulders. “Gangland, shmangland. Hell, just about anybody can hire a hit man these days. You don’t have to be in the mob. You just have to know the right—or should I say, the wrong people.”

The killer shook his head. “Too bad.” If you were looking for it, you could detect a slight smile on his face.

The policeman shook open a plastic bag. “Given the choice, I’d rather slip away quietly, in my sleep.”

And with that he went on his way, in search of evidence.

An ambulance screeched to a stop and the attendants hurried from the cab. They were greeted by an older detective, obviously the man in charge. “Relax guys! This one’s long gone.”

The driver was taking some equipment from a storage compartment. “Well, if you don’t mind, we’ll check anyway. We get paid to do this.”

The two medics hurried past the detective.

“Hey, I was just trying to help.”

The murderer was now standing near the detective. After a moment, the investigator realized that this stranger was staring at him, sizing him up.

“What’s your problem?” he asked.

The killer smiled. “I was just thinking—I’m glad I’m not in your shoes.”

“Why’s that?” the detective asked defensively.

“Because I’d hate to have to pick up after this mess.”

The assassin tucked his package under his arm and walked away.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Here We Go!!

I think that writing a blog is like pushing a snowball down a hill; you hope that it will gain momentum and grow as it rolls along. I'd like to welcome everyone to Creative Hodge-Podge. Hopefully you'll find it interesting and entertaining; you'll tell your friends and you'll come back again and again.

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