Monday, June 30, 2008

Midol's Reverse Common Sense

My wife spotted an ad on TV tonight for Midol that has the tagline...I kid you not..."Reverse the Curse". Thank god for TiVo - I only had my cameraphone to get a screenshot but it's enough.

Nevermind the general cheesiness of the tagline, but I can't imagine they'd be dumb enough to run this ad in Boston. It hasn't been THAT long since my beloved Sox eliminated the "Curse of the Bambino" and took down the "Reverse the Curse" sign on Storrow Drive.

Then again, Bayer is dumb enough to run such a dumbass ad in the first place. And it's not just dumb because I'm a guy, even my wife thought it was stupid.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Yorkers are Elitist?

I was driving just north of Albany this morning, and stopped by Dunkin' Dounts for a fix of heroin cup of coffee, and whilst waiting, I saw this in the "condiment tray" (sugar, straws, etc).

Apparently, either Dunkin' Donuts is run by people really into chemistry or they've got a sense of humor about their salt.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin's Last "F**k You"

Talk about a lousy way to begin the week, as I awoke to the news that George Carlin died last night, at the age of 71. NPR's Fresh Air has a great interview with him from several years back, that I highly recommend listening to.

I don't generally like surprises, but last July my wife treated me to a wonderful surprise for my birthday: we saw Carlin live at the South Shore Music Circus. I am a huge Carlin fan; his brilliant skewering of the everyday hypocrisy of the human race never failed to bring a laugh to my lips.

And I liked the show, too...he had two halves, the first was material that was slightly older, but still pretty recent...let's say the past two or three years. It was stuff he'd refined into really funny material. The word "guffawing" comes to mind.

The second half was, in a sense, a fascinating look behind the curtain. He announced at the beginning that it was new material, and thus it wasn't all that polished yet, and that some stuff he was trying out for the first time that night. Perhaps he says that at every show, but it was a nice touch regardless. Anyways, true to form, the material was a little rough, and not everything was really funny...or at least wasn't up to the standard of "George Carlin funny", but it was always interesting and that alone was worth it.

At the time I felt vaguely honored to have seen a man of his skill, creativity and work ethic, in person and only 50ft away from me. Now I feel even more so. Rest easy, George...ya did us all real good. We'll miss you.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Newspapers: I can has intellectualist-elitism?

God, I don't know what I'd do for blogging material without Current. Today there's a story about how Lee Abrams, former XM satellite radio programmer, now chief innovation officer for the Tribune Company, is gracing us with 15 ideas for growing newspapers. Current focuses on how Abrams sort-of disses NPR, and everything that needs to be said either already is or will be said by others.

I'd rather pause for a minute and opine that the fact that Abrams is working for the Tribune, has the job title "chief INNOVATION officer", and is spouting incredibly ignorant tripe like these 15 ideas? That's the reason why newspapers are, supposedly, going down in flames as a business model.

First off, you can't bring in ONE guy and expect him or her to change a stodgy corporate culture into something fresh, hip and innovative. It's gotta be people like that from the corner office to the guy cleaning the bathrooms. Well, okay, maybe not the bathroom guy...but it can't just be one person off in a corner scribbling on post-it notes.

Second, I doubt I'm alone in wondering why Abrams seems hellbent to turn his newspaper into a website. I don't mean a companion site, I mean he's almost talking as if everyone's walking around with a laptop, reading a PDF of his newspaper. Lemme try explaining this from another angle: who reads newspapers? Is it young twentysomethings? Generally speaking, no. And why should they? They grew up on the web. It has all the benefits of a print newspaper, many benefits over a print newspaper, and none of the detriments. Hell, to them, reading a newspaper on a 2x3 inch cellphone display is "easier" than reading it on a piece of paper....the point being that nothing you do in regards to the content of your print newspaper...short of restricting the content only to print (a proven loser of an idea) is going to get kids to read it. They are just instinctively more comfortable on the web.

So who's reading the newspaper? Probably older people. People who grew up reading newspapers. And if you structure your newspaper so that it appeals to young people, there's a damn good chance (near-certainty, even) that you'll annoy the hell of out the older generations.
They are instinctively less comfortable on the web.

This isn't to say Abrams' ideas are all stinkers. He's certainly "getting it" when it comes to how you can't ever make assumptions about your audience. And I applaud him for evangelizing an idea long-overdue: stop scattering news articles across a wide range of pages. It's based on a very old-world idea of forcing reader's eyes to sweep across as many pages as possible, thus seeing as many ads as possible. It's a horrible idea in the web age, when everyone...even old fogies...are more used to getting straight to the point and don't have time to screw around searching through lots of content they don't want.

I also suspect that Abrams may be using these ideas to back the paper into another long-overdue concept: better integration between a newspaper and its website. Very few papers really do a good job synchronizing the content between the two so that they are more than a "For more info, go to" sort of thing. The layout is different, the feel is different, and rarely does the actual content on one really complement the other. Usually the content for the paper is just barfed back up on the website, too...with a little eye candy tossed in for fun. I don't usually see the reverse angle applied - why not use the web to drive print stories? There's no rule that says it can't be done effectively; collect info and opinions on the web, use it for an expose in the print.

Oyeah, pet peeve: why is it that so many newspaper websites seem to have no problem with giant ads covering up their content? Would they accept that in their print version? Of course not! So why should readers have to accept it on the website? It's annoying, it's hard (as a user) to get rid of, and it invariably uses Flash which is a resource hog (especially on older computers) and is very, very insecure (vulnerable to hacking).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Clever Pitching of a Show

Now this is some truly clever marketing on behalf of a show's producer.


A subversive plan to influence pubradio programmers

Jesse Thorn of The Sound of Young America has a subversive new strategy to win airtime on public radio stations: he's offering free t-shirts to anyone who works at a station and likes his show. The catch: all recipients must agree to wear their t-shirts to work and "talk about the show when people looked at them funny," Thorn writes on his blog. The t-shirt campaign is already underway at one unnamed major market station. "Hopefully, the program director is noticing," he writes.

But I love the thinking-outside-the-box mentality here. This is something your average over-30 producer would, I'm fairly certain, never think of on their own. (Thorn is 26)

Admittedly, I'm not really all that sure this will work. I mean, it's a smart way to get the attention of a station's program director, but I'd be surprised if a program director is going to give that much weight to the opinion of a bunch of (presumably) twentysomethings who're all walking around, wearing the same t-shirt like they're in a cult or something.

Posit: Look at it this way. Imagine it's 2001. Your PD drives a Lexus. He likes it a lot. He drives it for ten years. One day, he decides it's time to buy a new car. By coincidence, the next day, all the kids in the station are wearing t-shirts that say "Buy a Toyota Prius" (remember, it's 2001, when the Priuses first arrived at the US).

Question: How much will that influence the PD's decision?

Answer: Probably very little. The PD has a known track record with a car he's driven for a long time, and has a proven track record of quality. And he knows that car "looks good" with the people he cares about, (other) rich people who give the station money. Granted, now at least he knows about the Prius, and he might be aware that the Prius has definite benefits, even advantages over the Lexus. But odds are good he'll stick with the Lexus.

Now if the PD got 100 phone calls from his top 100 donors telling him to buy the Prius...then he'd probably buy the Prius. Or if he got 10,000 calls from people living in his neighborhood.

Still, it'll be interesting to see if this experiment works. I wouldn't be surprised if the PD at the above, unnamed "major market station", refuses to air the show just because he/she doesn't want to be drowning in free t-shirts from other desperate show producers.

Wiki Editing

I stumbled across the Get An Edit service today, by way of RadioSutton, and at first I was quite intrigued. Certainly there is a large and growing need for greater "editing" in general out there. By which I mean there's a ton of media...mostly thanks to blogs and blog-like services...available for consumption, but the vast majority of it faces no vetting by an outside source whatsoever. Never mind fact-checking, most of this stuff desperately needs SPELL-checking. Or something that helps cure diarrhea of the keyboard (present blog not excluded).

Turns out Get An Edit appears to largely just be a one-man consulting shop by a guy named Mark Moran, news director at KJZZ. That's cool and all, but I'm disappointed.

I'm disappointed because my first thought was that this was more of a "crowd-sourced" wiki-based service. A means by which people could submit work for review and members of the public could review and edit it. Editors who do a good job would get ranked somehow, and would get access to more and more "important" material as they demonstrated their worth.

Actually, I have a vague feeling that such a service already exists in a similar form, but I don't think anyone's really taken it to the level where you could, as an independent public radio producer, submit your work to the service and expect that it would be edited at a high enough level to be appropriate for public radio's fairly high standards.

That would be pretty cool. Imagine if every NPR affiliate, and NPR itself, all participated in a project like this. It wouldn't matter if you lived in some podunk town with a tiny NPR affiliate; if you had the skills, you'd be working on stuff that aired in major markets.

Of course, the catch is that good editors are made, not born, so it requires time and effort to be a good editor. Time and effort take money. And where would the money come from? There's a limit to how good the editing quality would consistently be if it were all an unpaid venture. And to make it a paying gig introduces an incredible level of complexity to the system, and probably will cost a lot more than the value it would bring.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Buy an iPhone, Be Steve Jobs' Bitch

Lemme get this straight...if I bought an iPhone about a year ago, I would've paid at least $400 and gotten an iPod that only has 4GB of space and a pathetically slow data rate for email and web surfing. Oh, and it wouldn't have worked with my office email account because my job uses Outlook, and it only would work with AT&T (which means annoying dit-dit-duh, dit-dit-duh noises on every speaker and headphones within 20ft).

Now, this July I can buy an iPhone 2.0 for (at least) $100 less, and get 3G internet speeds (waaaay faster) and more disk space and Outlook connectivity (allegedly).

So why shouldn't I just wait another year, get it for another $100 less, another doubling of the disk space, and it'll probably work with Verizon and other carriers by then, too? Tell me again why I should be Steve Jobs' bitch? Tell me exactly how Apple's gonna convince 10 million other knuckleheads to buy this thing after burning them once before and now burning them again by offering a better product at a steep discount only a few months after the first release?

Quite frankly, I rather like my Samsung i760 with Verizon. It works just fine and has, as far as I'm concerned, a helluva lot better features than the iPhone does. Well, Verizon is an ocean of suck in general, but the phone itself is pretty cool.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Fair Game Bites the Dust

So I just heard that Fair Game with Faith Salie has been canceled; the last episode aired May 30th. Primo bummer - one of, if not the, only pubradio shows geared specifically for the twenty/thirtysomething audience and apparently it just never caught on: a stated reason for the cancellation is low carriage. Apparently after 17 months only 25 stations were airing it.

I'll grant ya, that was a more fair shake than what Pop Vultures got, but I suspect they both failed for the same reasons: most pubradio PD's are...regardless of their age, gender or race...effectively acting like stodgy old white men. I say that because most of pubradio's big donors are, in reality, stodgy old white men, and thus the PD's program their stations to cater to that audience. Some don't, but a lot'll be hard-pressed to find a more risk-averse person than your average Program Director at a major-market station. He/she knows that one slip up could cost them thousands of listeners and thus millions of dollars. No wonder they're risk-averse! Thusly, one could argue that Fair Game is ahead of its time (sooner or later those old white men will gradually be replaced with younger generations)...or just argue that when you're up against that ingrained a mentality, it takes a looooong time to break through. Maybe 17 months wasn't long enough...maybe it would've taken five full years. But that is, I concede, a long time to be funding 13 fulltime staff members without seeing much in results.

Oh well, that's a rant for another day. I wanted to focus on something else: the supposed "low carriage". I take issue with that, because while it was only 25 stations, it was 25 stations in several major markets: Boston, New York, Dallas, Seattle, Miami. Also some of the bigger "secondary markets" like Charlotte (NC), Las Vegas and Columbus (OH).

Admittedly, there were several major markets it wasn't heard in: San Francisco, Philadelphia, Denver, Atlanta, Chicago or Los Angeles (well, it was on a Thousand Oaks station, which is near LA to the west, but it's by no means an "LA Station"). But still, to get half of the top ten markets in less than two years is not too shabby, even if the airtimes were, by and large, not so great. And their podcast following is huge, some 100,000 listeners.

I wonder if this highlights the difficulty of getting stations to pick up a daily show vs. a once-a-week show. There's almost always room somewhere on a Saturday or Sunday to shove in another show...even if it's a lousy timeslot. But weekdays are tougher; between ME, ATC, TOTN, and Fresh Air, you've already got at least seven hours...usually more like ten...committed already. Most stations also air Diane Rehm or OnPoint, and often repeat it, and an hour or two of the BBC, so there's one-half to two-thirds of the day (and all of the primetime hours) taken before you get to any of the "non flagship" programs.

Oh well, it's a shame...I was seriously thinking about picking up Fair Game to round out our upcoming Ithaca station, WITH. Probably would've played nicely there.