It’s not surprising these days when a major media group reports sour Q2 results, but iHeartMedia’s financial announcement on Thursday was still eye-popping.
The largest radio broadcast group in the United Sates put an exclamation point on exactly how disastrous the COVID-19 pandemic has been for radio broadcasters by posting a 47% decline in revenue for the period from April–June 2020 compared to a year ago.
“The challenges that we have faced due to COVID-19 were unprecedented and had a severe, negative impact on our revenue in the second quarter,” said Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia.
iHeartMedia’s second quarter reveal on Thursday didn’t come as much of a surprise to radio observers. Other major radio groups have been reporting very poor Q2 numbers due to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, but now we can see just how steep those revenue declines were earlier this year.
The company saw revenue drop by 50% in April and 49% in May compared to one year ago, according to iHeartMedia’s financial report. Overall revenue was $488 million for the second quarter.
“[iHeartMedia] revenue suffered with a big drop in April, but it’s been showing improvement in each successive month, including the just closed July. It’s still too early to predict the slope of the recovery with any certainty,” Pittman said on Thursday.
Broadcast revenue suffered the biggest fall at iHeartMedia in Q2, dropping 57% to $244 million compared to $561 million in 2019. In contrast to broadcast, the company’s radio networks were down 38.4%; smart audio down 28%; and digital up 2.4%, mostly driven by podcasting, which was up 103%, Pittman reported.
iHeartMedia has taken steps to cut expenses to help navigate the financial impact of the pandemic. “Corporate expenses decreased 36.1% during the second quarter compared to the prior year quarter as a result of lower employee compensation, including variable incentive expenses and employee benefits resulting from expense reduction initiatives,” according to the company.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused iHeartMedia to reexamine its real estate holdings going forward, and that includes iHeartMedia.
“We are taking a step back…looking at our organization, looking at things like real estate, which is a significant cost in this company,” said Rich Bressler, president and COO for iHeartMedia. “We continue to focus on maximizing liquidity and strengthening our capital structure during this period of uncertainty.”
iHeartMedia’s well publicized modernization efforts announced earlier this year are helping the bottom line, according to Bressler. “These initiatives remain on-track to deliver the expected $250 million of expense savings in 2020. We expect our modernization initiatives to deliver $100 million of annualized run rate savings by mid-2021. In addition to those savings, we are continuing to evaluate our cost structure to identify efficiencies.
“Our areas of focus will include continued optimization of our real estate footprint and the adoption of technology solutions that will drive increased efficiency and effectiveness in our operations,” Bressler said.
In response to a question from Sebastiano Petti, an equity research analyst at JP Morgan Chase and Co., Pittman on Thursday was blunt about squeezing additional savings out of new work from home strategies that have emerged during the pandemic.
“I will tell you I was not a fan of a work-from-home company at all, but I’ve realized that there are some people in our company who can work as productively or more productively from home, and it has very beneficial financial impacts for us. So we’re examining everything. And again, it’s been one giant experiment,” Pittman said.
The author is senior vice president for product development at Marketron.
Is there any doubt that radio is the best and most cost-effective reach medium ever created? For many decades, radio broadcasters have made a can’t-miss pitch to advertisers: although they are focused on one primary tactic (the linear broadcast), it is a highly differentiated, high-value product with great reach in a given geography. Most radio stations can point to a long and proven track record of highly successful results, with close ties to the communities and loyal audiences they serve.
But the radio business is facing significant and pressing challenges. As consumer behavior has evolved, today’s advertisers have had to adopt new strategies for reaching potential buyers. That means interacting with consumers wherever, whenever, and however they consume media, from traditional broadcasting to the full range of digital platforms. In order to offer a competitive advertising product in this highly complex market, radio organizations of all sizes are under pressure to augment their traditional broadcast advertising programs with a healthy mix of digital advertising product (both O&O and third-party).
If managed well, this digital transformation offers a powerful growth opportunity for broadcasters. By some estimates, the digital advertising marketplace is at least seven times larger than the traditional radio market. As a company with a large installed base in the radio community, Marketron has seen even smaller broadcasters who aggressively pursue digital advertising add at least 10% to the top line of their businesses within the first year. And some of them have added 20–30% in additional revenues.
The Changing Market
There’s no question that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the radio business. We hope and expect the market to begin recovering in the second half of 2020, but radio revenues were already flat or even in slight decline prior to the pandemic. Two big reasons are the growth of the digital advertising market and the strong competition now posed by ad agencies.
In past decades, agencies were complementary partners to broadcasters — aggregating advertising across radio, television, and print and offering another market channel and services radio stations weren’t able to provide, such as creative. Fast forward to today, when agencies can now create highly integrated campaigns, targeted to specific objectives and employing a blizzard of different tactics: radio/TV/cable, print, OTT/CTV, internet display ads, video, search engine marketing, social media, outdoor advertising. Not only are these campaigns more measurable and targeted than traditional radio ads, but agencies can also offer creative development and metrics reporting.
The good news is that an effective digital transformation can enable radio stations to become effective competitors to agencies by maintaining ownership and control of client relationships, pricing, differentiation and targeting.
Making the Digital Transformation: Key Steps
Given those challenges and emerging new opportunities, growing numbers of radio broadcasters are taking the plunge and expanding into the digital advertising realm. But what are the best approaches, and how do you begin?
Most broadcasters already have a baseline of digital products in their mix, which they can use as the starting point to evolve their operation and develop new digital opportunities while continuing to maintain on-air products. That balancing act requires a carefully thought-out gameplan that addresses the following steps:
- Vision. Create a vision and prepare for change in order to engage employees effectively and set the company up for success and future growth. As we’ve said, this requires a full organizational commitment from the top levels of leadership down through each level of the organization. Everyone must be fully committed to embedding digital advertising into the fabric of the business.
- Design. Create your digital product suite. Although many radio stations are currently selling digital advertising on their O&O properties (e.g. display ads on the station’s website or social media channels), the ideal digital inventory should be a mix of O&O product and third-party advertising. These are ad products that appear on third-party platforms; e.g. paid social media ads, video pre-, post-, and mid-roll ads on OTT and CTV platforms.
- Opportunity. Build an internal organization designed for success. This includes an incentive and compensation structure that takes into account the expanded world of digital advertising, as well as the appropriate new hires and skill sets.
- Services. Create a business infrastructure with a consolidated set of technical services for creating a proposal, generating an order, invoicing, generating campaign reports, and facilitating renewals. All of these services should integrate seamlessly with your back-office system.
For many broadcasters, expanding into the digital advertising realm might seem like a daunting task, and of course there are some significant challenges involved. However, the digital transformation reward is worth the journey, paying off in the powerful new growth opportunities that a carefully crafted mix of radio and digital inventory will deliver.
Not so far into the future, we see a world in which many radio broadcasters have made a successful leap to digital — so successful, in fact, that they can position themselves as specialty agencies with a highly differentiated product. A radio station can offer something the agency down the street can’t: a highly successful linear channel, offering a powerful public service to listeners with well-established relationships in the community.
With a sophisticated product offering and thoughtfully structured internal operations, stations will be able to charge a premium for a multichannel campaign that uniquely meets the key objectives of the campaign. The net-net: local broadcasters will be able to position themselves as a single source for highly integrated and effective campaigns that meet and exceed all of their advertisers’ objectives.
Broadcast contract engineer Tim Walker wrote in to say how much he enjoyed reading solutions to problems from engineers in the field in past Workbench columns. It’s reassuring to see the display of engineering talent visible in the pages of Workbench.
Tim shares an experience with a Collins/Continental “Power Rock” 5 kW AM transmitter. This is a pulse-width-modulated transmitter that, in Tim’s case, was intermittently losing modulation of the RF envelope.
The culprit turned out to be a broken connection to the grid of the triode switch modulator tube (Fig. 1).Fig. 1: With power off and circuits discharged, test the security of connections.
The soldered connection appears solid but was in fact broken, making intermittent contact with the grid ring as the temperature fluctuated and it vibrated from the high volume of cooling air through the tube compartment.
When Tim finally identified the problem, he was reminded of the welder’s adage: “A good-looking weld is not always a good weld, but a good weld always looks good.” The same applies to electrical connections, so take nothing for granted when tracking down intermittent problems.
Early in my career, I was working with a consulting engineer, brought in by the station to try to determine why the transmitter would occasionally shut down, while the directional parameters went nuts.
The consultant and I walked to every tower. Using a long wooden broomstick, he rapped components in the base antenna tuning units, followed by a good rap to the coiled copper tube feedline to each tower. The station chief monitored operation and communicated the status over a two-way.
On the third tower, when the consultant whacked the copper feed tube, it broke right off the tower! The weld “looked” OK, but a good-looking weld is not always a good weld.
Connections need to be secure. This is especially true in older AM arrays.
Tip: Don’t Touch!
Projects engineer Dan Slentz and I were remembering the days of the big 50 kW transmitters, and the way the coils would “sing” with the modulating signal. You could actually hear the demodulated signal singing inside the transmitter, as well as in the tuning units at the tower base.
Dan found a memorable video on Reddit to share these memories with Workbench readers.
Fig. 2: Check out this video on Reddit, titled “Never touch an AM radio tower.”
This would be a good video to post for your entire staff to watch. Hearing the advertisement’s phone number as the battery cable is arcing across the tower base is nothing short of amazing to someone who hasn’t experienced it.
The fact that you “work” on this stuff as a broadcast engineer should amaze your staff as well. Show it to them! Just another day in the life of a broadcast engineer.
Tip: UV sterilizer
Griffin Communications’ Radio Engineering Director Brett Gilbert, researching a simple way to decontaminate surfaces, found an interesting product from CureUV.
The company specializes in ultraviolet light sources that sterilize surfaces. One particular model that looks promising is the GermAwayUV Premier 35 Watt Handheld UVC Surface Sterilizer.
This handheld device is about the size of a cigar box and is supplied with a 6-foot AC cord. It is smaller than CureUV’s other industrial sterilizers and is priced at under $400 list. The device will effectively decontaminate surfaces from viruses, bacteria and molds.Fig. 3: This is one way to make sure your surfaces are clean.
It provides a quick and easy way of sanitizing surfaces, as you plug it in and slowly pass the lamp over the surface to be sanitized. The bulb lasts up to 10,000 hours (about 1 year). In addition to the UV-C emitting bulb, brightened reflectors enhance the accuracy by up to 30%.
UV-C light is ultraviolet, in the C spectrum, and is especially efficient at destroying harmful microorganisms. In addition to being effective against a range of viruses, the UV-C light can be used to remediate mold, quickly killing mold spores.
UV-C light has a range of applications both residential and industrial. It’s used in food preparation settings to reduce contamination, as well as in hospitals, clinics and veterinarian offices to sanitize surfaces. The company offers a caution that Ultraviolet UV-C light is harmful to your eyes and skin, and users should never look directly at the bulb. The company recommends the use of safety glasses that can be ordered with the device.
But how do you know it’s working? As I read the description, that was my first question; I wondered whether this was snake oil.
The company acknowledges that this is a natural question, since disinfection is happening at a microscopic level. It includes a set of UV-C Visualizer Strips along with all GermAwayUV Surface Disinfection products. You place the UV-C Visualizer card on the surface you wish to disinfect and run the handheld sterilizer over it. The yellow strip on the card will change from a bright yellow to a light green.
Exposing the surface to the UV-C light until the strip turns green will ensure the surface has been treated properly, the company says. If there is no color change, you have to slow the rate at which you move the handheld sanitizer across the surface, or move the sanitizer closer to the surface.
The website was citing a shipping delay of eight to nine weeks at this writing. If you or your station invests in this device, please drop me a line to tell readers how it works out.
John Bisset has spent over 50 years in the broadcasting industry and is still learning. He handles western U.S. radio sales for the Telos Alliance. He holds CPBE certification with the Society of Broadcast Engineers and is a past recipient of the SBE’s Educator of the Year Award.
The post Workbench: A Good-Looking Weld Is Not Always a Good Weld appeared first on Radio World.
While I agree with most of the points raised by the author of “Why WWV and WWVH Still Matter,” as an engineer I’ve long abandoned zero beating WWV to calibrate local frequency references.
In fact I owned a WWVB comparator, basically a loop antenna and TRS receiver tuned to 60 kHz that permitted fairly precise calibration but took many minutes to center the reading due to the typical path instability of radio waves, even using the ground wave, which is only useful in daylight hours.
At night WWVB is unusable for frequency/phase measurements due to skywave propagation but is the best time for those so called atomic clocks to calibrate to the slow time code repeated once a minute on a daily basis.
So, how do I calibrate the frequency references of my frequency counters and spectrum analyzer used for broadcast engineering? The answer is GPS.
The line-of-sight microwave band signals provide much less jitter, especially when more than one SV is used for a timing solution. You can buy GPS timing receivers on eBay and elsewhere for under $100. Add a cheap patch antenna or a quality outdoor antenna and you’re good to go.
You’ll get both data for time of day and a precision 10 MHz reference signal you can lock to a synthesized RF signal generator to dial in any frequency precisely. And just in case a GPS signal is for some reason not available I have an old Rubidium Atomic Oscillator on hand, also quite inexpensive second or third hand.
So, ultimately as nice as WWV is to have around, except for WWVB there really isn’t a great need for HF time signals anymore.
The author is chief engineer of Monadnock Broadcasting Group in Keene, N.H.
Dan Sessler, who owned and led RF Specialties of Texas, has died. He was 74.
News of his passing was circulated by the broadcast equipment supplier and by the Texas Association of Broadcasters.
The RF Specialties Group is an alliance of independent broadcast suppliers. RF Specialties of Texas serves a six-state region, according to the group’s website.
Dan Sessler studied electrical engineering at Mountain State University; and his first radio engineering job was in West Virginia. He went into station ownership and helped build a local public TV station in Beckley, W.Va.
He was a district sales manager for Harris Corp.’s broadcast division from 1988 to 2010, according to his LinkedIn page.
Sessler acquired the Texas operation from Don Jones in 2010, as RW reported at the time.
“TAB named Sessler Associate of the Year in 2017 for his many years of service to Texas Radio and TV stations, as well as his vital contributions to the TAB Convention & Trade Show,” the Texas association wrote on its website.
“Dan Sessler was a mentor and friend to hundreds of Texas broadcasters,” said TAB President Oscar Rodriguez. “His standards of service were a model to all. And his passion for the industry was reflected in his personal commitment to organizations like TAB where he helped us build the annual TAB Show into the great success it is.
SBE Chapter 56 Chairman Don Dobbs also noted Sessler’s passing. “I have know Dan for many years having purchased transmitters and microwave equipment,” he wrote to Radio World. “He was always supportive of the local SBE chapters, buying ads on our website and taking us out for annual holiday dinners.”
Radio is Africa’s most accessible, influential and used information outlet, according to a recent survey by United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization. Several radio stations in Africa have more than a million listeners each. An even more interesting phenomenon that is becoming a part of editorial policy for many radio stations is to engage young people as presenters, content creators and other important aspects of programming.
Radio is a wonderful way to interact, learn and communicate. There is a need to keep radio vibrant and active. Most importantly, it is important to engage young producers, presenters and reporters.
As the world celebrates International Youth Day, Aug. 12, with calls for youth engagement for global action, it is important to look at some of the young Africans who have taken radio industry by a storm.
Natalie Githinji is a presenter at NRG Radio, a youth-targeted station in Kenya. At only 23, Natalie, who is also an actress and content creator, hosts one of the most popular breakfast shows in Kenya — “NRG Breakfast Club.” It has a large audience among the youth.
“Young people love listening to the show because they see me as one of their own and they are able to express themselves on touchy subjects which affect them, while feeling protected” Natalie said
“I always share my stories on air, and many of them are able to relate, get inspired and open up,” she added.
According to Natalie, radio stations in Africa need to engage more youth to give them a platform to showcase their talent and connect with young people who really need representatives and people they can relate with at stations.
Also, she believes that young people need more coaching and mentorship, and opportunities to understand, learn about radio and digital management to be prepared and become better presenters. Most important, Natalie is encouraging radio stations to appreciate and drive the content that youth relate to.
In Botswana, Yandile Nuku is proving that the airwaves are just as important now, as ever. The young radio host uses the platform to improve access to business opportunities.Yandile Nuku
Through her weekly show, “Venture In” that airs on Duma FM in Botswana, Yandile helps young people to make sense and have better understanding of the business world. Yandile who has immense confidence in young Africans has managed to connect students to markets and different industries.
“Young people, are unchartered territory yet to be explored, diamonds in the rough yet to be discovered, the deal breakers yet to be processed and products yet to be sold,” she said.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is becoming more youthful — youth as a proportion of the total is estimated to be above 75%. With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. And it keeps growing rapidly. To realize a demographic dividend, there is need to invest and tap into the potential, creativity and energy of young people.
It is encouraging to see young people joining radio and demonstrating their talents.
Josephine Namakau Pumulo is the co-founder and communication lead at Agents of Change Foundation in Zambia. She uses radio to connect with and impact communities.
“As a child, I always wanted to be a journalist to share about many issues in the society, and to speak for the marginalized,” she shared.
Agents of Change uses radio as a tool to communicate issues that are relevant to young people. Currently, the organization is producing radio shows on different topics including climate change, eye health and reproductive health and rights.
Also, Pumulo is developing production guides for the agency’s young reporters and preparing them for the shows.
“We want our young people to appreciate that being on radio means a certain level of responsibility,” Pumulo said. “That is why we ensure that the content relayed to the public is verified and well researched.”
Joseph Mulekwa is one of the beneficiary of Agents of Change program. Joseph became a reporter and presenter at age 15. He was trained together with other 40 young people across Zambia in radio production and broadcasting.Joseph Mulekwa
Now, Joseph runs the “Voice Radio Show” on Pan African Radio 96.1 FM. Young people appreciate his show because of the impact. The show has given listeners an opportunity to hold leaders accountable.
“I feel so good to be a young radio presenter and it has given me an opportunity to engage with civic leaders, policy makers and local authority … and it has helped me to act as a gatekeeper between my community and our leaders,” he said.
All his shows are live and call-in programs. This he says allows him to engage with listeners and get feedback on how best to deliver the show and discuss issues.
In the show young people do the program together with the presenter. The show is a conversation where young people raise questions, give their opinions, suggestions and demand solutions. Their conversation is always about concerns and possible solutions to issues that they care about.
“Things are changing and the world is changing too. Young people are vibrant and have more creative ideas on how to engage with other fellow young people. More radio stations should engage more young people because we understand things that affect us in our community because we are the ones on the ground,” he added.
According to Mulekwa, mentorship and support to young presenters is critical for success. He is urging more organizations to trust and support radio broadcasting for, with and by young people.
“For example here in Zambia, we only have two organizations that cater to about 70% of young people in the country … If we had more organizations that are youth-driven and speak to youth broadcast, we can have more young people becoming radio presenters,” he said.
James Smart, a renowned journalist in Africa and former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, agrees on the important need for support to young people to enable them to join radio industry.
Most importantly, he advises young people interested in radio, to build their craft, learn how to present, engage audiences and connect. He urges young people not to be afraid and to try new things, create a broadcast identity.
“Create your own style and identity, copying other sounds and style is OK but please bring your personality to the job. We are suffering with radio voices because people went in and became a clone of someone they admired. Let’s inject some freshness into the business,” he said.
It’s safe to say that more young people, not less will be the new normal in the changing radio landscape — radio for youth, radio with youth and radio by youth.
Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst. He has served as a consultant with the United Nations and the World Bank. Also, he’s a writer and widely published in Africa and beyond. An alumnus of Duke University, he has authored and co-authored numerous books, including “Conversations about the Youth in Kenya.” Obonyo is a TEDx fellow and has won various awards.
Gordon Smith, the National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO, suffered a stroke on Wednesday, Aug. 5, and was admitted to a hospital, according to a statement from the NAB.
“He is responding well to treatment, is stable and alert, and is resting comfortably,” the NAB shared in its statement. “His prognosis is good, and he is expected to make a full recovery.”
Smith, a former two-term Senator from Oregon, has been leading the NAB since September of 2009.
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