Two weeks. Two blog posts from Tom Langmyer.
If you didn't read Tom's first missive, it was a fresh look at the AM radio in the car mess through a new lens. As a person who's been in radio leadership throughout most of his career – including runs at KMOX and WGN – Tom was well qualified to share some important views on the state of play in the dashboard. His post is still racking up impressive views, a week after it originally was published. You can read it here.
Today, its A.I. – the other hot topic in the rapidly changing world of broadcast radio. In all my years of doing this, I have not seen another hot topic dominate conversations in the trades, as well as in conference rooms all over the county, and likely, around the globe.
We're all trying to get our heads around this phenomenon. And we're not alone. From Congress to Elon Musk to Bill Gates, we have an 8,000-pound digital gorilla in the room – and he's moving.
Enjoy Tom's post, which originally appeared as a comment. And as you did last time, please leave a comment below. – FJ
I really wish we could look at the state of radio today through yesterday’s lens – but that ship sailed away many years ago.
We need to start anew with a vision of building something different and BIG. Thirty years plus have passed since so many of those radio greats across the country left the air.
However, the kind of result achieved in those days is what we’re still after.
Even the names of those greats sadly don’t resonate with anyone under the age 50, which is so hard to believe, but it’s true.
Of course, if we could have today’s versions of those personalities, it would be terrific.
However, during that passage of time, the business was whittled down by a couple of things.
It was more attractive to suck localism out of stations, because this was the means of drastically reducing expenses – and it was the quick and easy way out. Today, perhaps the majority of music-based stations, literally run on autopilot – and that’s been the case for years.
These efficiencies created a talent “brain drain” that spans four decades. The best creative minds aren’t interested in doing dynamic, creative and impactful things for an industry that doesn’t want that – and also doesn’t want them.
When I think about AI used in the right instances (and AI isn’t just about synthesized voices, but also about content gathering), I do believe it’s better than a tracked radio announcer’s 3-4 day old generic tracks being played on a station. Not local, not timely, not compelling nor interesting in the least. Add to that, a 12-hour-old rambling or rushed recorded weather forecast by a TV partner that’s still referencing the morning when it’s the afternoon – and NEVER gives current conditions.
Compare that to AI that’s giving you concise information on a storm heading this way from the NWS, the final score of the your city’s professional sports team or a small town high school game, taking about a major accident on the freeway, etc.
I simply cannot come up with a name of ANY voice tracker that’s a true IMPACT PLAYER or a noteworthy tracked “authentic human personality.” Think one that’s really impactful, memorable or “important,” let alone well-known – let alone being a destination for appointment listening. Are they even visible the community? So much for the vaunted human.
The sad part is to hear the generic trackers speak with excitement at the end of their “radio factory shift.” And doing so along with all the authenticity of having a “radio name” created by using two first names!
“I’m Jimmy Richards and I’m outta here for the weekend, but don’t worry because Amber Roberts is gonna take you through the afternoon!!”
That remnant of vintage radio DJ patter is like the radio cockroach that never goes away, along with those 1960s DJ names.
In actuality, Jimmy Jones said absolutely nothing of interest during his “shift.” No one knows him or cares about him. And it’s better that they don’t, because he’s also doing the same shift on the other rack-mounted radio station in the building, using another fake radio name. He’s had no relevant nor time-sensitive information or anything else that would rise the experience beyond the taste of a “nothing burger” while the tracks of that “non-content” is spread across a six-hour “shift.”
No one is worried about his being “outta here” any more than they are excited for the next human, Amber Roberts, to make us laugh hysterically, cry, cheer, learn, be informed or kept safe with her tracks – because she won’t either. Plus she’s imported from yet another city, 700 miles away. And she’s never even been to your market, let alone could she even find it on a map.
However, those faithful listeners have been told “Don’t go away” and to listen for 3 more hours, because she teased her promise to run down the “list of the Top-10 TikTok videos from last week, sometime after six.”
And after her “shift” is over, there won’t be anyone even providing that kind of prattle for the next 12 hours, from early that evening until the next day. During that time, the station will be spitting out tunes, punctuated by some Star Wars sound effects (credit: Lee Abrams with that analogy), while the station imaging voice says how the station “plays the best and most music.”
When you look at that for what it is, the use of AI is actually a huge improvement. No?
Tracy Gilliam, from Futuri, has on several occasions, taken broadcasters through demonstrations of the technology – and all the things it does to get important and timely content on the air.
I was blown away by how good it sounded. Honestly I couldn’t tell the difference. Now, I’m not going to say that great personality was oozing from this “thing,” but it was WAY better than most of the radio I hear.
I planned to be quite cynical – but I was WRONG.
This is coming from someone who is advocating for localism in radio and for personalities and a new generation of stars.
Why would I say this?
Radio companies are so challenged (based on the industry being driven by the mega consolidators’ models), by debt, predatory pricing, heavy commercial loads, lack of local content and little human connection – a tone that was by the industry “leaders.”
If we could snap our fingers and have brilliant live and local radio stars on the air tomorrow, by all means, let’s do it!!!
However, reality sets in.
- The economics of the business, based on greedy decisions made starting in 1996, doesn’t allow for it, at least not YET.
- Radio is a spoke on the wheel, along with other platforms, that orbit content. Not the other way around.
- Today’s local stars have to be multi-platform threats. It’s arguably harder to do that than it was back in the day to crank out 18 seconds of witty banter, standard DJ patter from muscle memory, and maybe a one-liner over the lip of a Neil Diamond record – and nailing the post.
Either way, when I think of Frank Benny’s radio companionship, his double-entendres, humor, timely and important content, delivered by that wonderful voice – or Shane’s haunting and thought-provoking theater of the mind, I admittedly wish we had that today. I also wish today’s generation could be inspired by hearing them, so they could create the 2023 version of that magic.
And that doesn’t even include Shane’s “Bandit, The Wonder Dog” doing tricks with a Frisbee in front of hundreds of fans at a remote! Way better than the shade canopy, prize wheel and the jock eating corn on the cob slathered in butter in front of a mobile phone store.
I will leave you with two things.
I was in Pittsburgh a while back for some meetings. I stuck around afterward to check out some of the old haunts. Then I drove past where the J&L steel mill once stood. They aren’t going to open up again anytime soon and give jobs to the steel workers. It was over in 1984.
Then I looked across Monongahela River and saw the UPMC logo on what used to be known as the US Steel Building.
It all made sense.
The most sobering moment this week came from a broadcasting friend in the Pacific Northwest, who told me when Gordon Lightfoot died, “a note from Corporate came down to make sure all Gordon Lightfoot songs were pulled immediately.”
Because all of the voice-tracking was already done and was in the system the day before he died. “If we were to play a Gordon Lightfoot song without anything being said, it would be strange, so just take them out.” There’s the mentality.
And that is another reason why AI can help to cover the times when the best we can do is three-day-old milquetoast tracks from a real human that has less personality than an AI voice!
It’s a start, and when radio, as part of the wheel of content platforms, grows as part of an integrated local media play, we can train and grow multi-platform stars in each local market for the future – and be the NEW local social media!
We can do this!
- An Open (News)Letter To Radio - December 6, 2023
- The Case For Handcrafted Radio - December 5, 2023
- Is It Time For The Music Industry To Write Radio A “Dear Genre” Letter? - December 4, 2023