Charlie Cook On Air

Halloween is right around the corner. It’s not my favorite holiday. I may be the only American who does not like Halloween. It’s cold out. Even in California, I would stand by the front door handing out candy to cute little kids, but it was always cold.

There is nothing cuter than a 3-4 year-old looking through a poorly-fitted mask, in a costume five sizes too big, with a huge bag pointed towards the sky, knowing that they get smiles and candy. But it’s always cold.

I also don’t love candy. You know, “Lead us not into temptation.”

I grew up in Detroit and it is really cold there. Which is one reason people in the Detroit area start fires on what is known as “Devil’s Night,” the night before Halloween. Because it is cold. They should move Halloween to July. It stays light longer, and it’s not cold.

Now that I have established I am not a fan of Halloween, let’s talk about some things that we should be afraid of as Halloween approaches. It is the scariest holiday, after all.

It’s when companies start doing their budgets for the upcoming year. They look back on the current year, which was not good for many people in our businesses, and they start looking for shortcuts. Radio had a tough revenue year, the record industry has had another challenging year.

More than cold weather at Halloween, I hate that managers lack the creativity of finding non-traditional revenue sources and deciding that they can save their way out of problems.

I do not spend money willy nilly. I worked for Westwood One for 10 years (post Norm Pattiz). I have been a partner in a privately held consulting company for close to 30 years. Every dime spent came out of our pockets. I have never worked for a company that spent frivolously. I am careful with costs, but trying to win with three less people than you failed to win with this year is generally a formula for failure.

If you have the wrong people, replace them, don’t eliminate the position. If you’re not accomplishing your goals with the people you have in those positions, is it the people, and not necessarily the position, that is the problem?

I have always believed that you find what works and you just repeat it over and over until it doesn’t work again, all the while evolving the process so that you’re prepared for the change when it is inevitable.

In radio the template has been to put the best product on the air, generate the biggest ratings you can and then send station representatives into the market to find sponsors that can benefit from using your station to reach consumers. This takes people.

In the record business you record the best music you can. Then you send representatives out to radio stations to convince them that this record will help them generate those ratings so that their representatives can go out into the market and, you get the idea. At the same time the record people are using the station to “advertise” the record to the audience. It is a win/win. Or should be. And it takes people.

A lot of stations are doing good radio today. In our format there are a ton of stations doing good radio. Boston, Detroit, LA, Minneapolis and others are seeing real ratings successes.

The music, in our format, and in CHR, is as good as it has ever been. Miranda Lambert is amazing. So are Chris Young and Justin Moore and Lady A and many more. In CHR, I love Katy Perry and Bruno Mars. The new Maroon 5 song is stuck in my head.

How tough is it to be good in a bad time? It’s like wearing the best Halloween costume to the Christmas Party.

Some people are afraid of change. They are afraid of innovation. The Country Music business is under attack. Radio is being attacked by Pandora and Spotify. The record industry is being attacked by dot edu accounts, and single track instead of full-album sales.

The problem with having radio and records partnering to fight these challenges is that we are at cross purposes on some of this stuff. Radio has run ads saying that stealing music is like stealing food from the Piggly Wiggly. Records continue to help radio with promotional tools in order to make sure that their music is presented in an exciting fashion.

But when it comes to Pandora and Spotify I am afraid that we part company. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that a pipe is a pipe is a pipe to an artist. Anything that gets the music out to the consumer is good.

I know some record executives who would love to diminish the influence of radio in the music/consumer equation. That is wrong-headed because it is the relationships, built over years and years, that can finally get over these problems.

I have a Pandora account. I really don’t listen much because I have to listen to radio for work. I hear 12 hours of radio a day. Not much time for Pandora. When I do listen I hear unfamiliar music but I am not sure if I hear a lot of new music. I know that I hear new music on the radio.

I have said in past columns that radio should do a better job of teaching the listener about new music and new artists and keeping the established artist’s profiles current. I mentioned months ago that providing tools for stations to use in order to introduce the artist information was imperative to continued success.

But most labels have cut the people who did this. How is that working out for building new acts? When it takes three CDs for an artist to break through, you don’t really make that up in volume.

Well sorry, I have gone long this week but I have to go to Target and buy some candy. Monday is Halloween.


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