Over the past few months, the blogosphere has been abuzz with talk about net neutrality, blogger privacy (anonymity) and “citizen journalists” recognition, NSA wiretapping and the impact /influence of the internet and blogs upon politics and traditional media outlets. What I had yet to see — and it’s possible that I simply missed it — is an interview with an industry professional regarding these topics.
With that in mind, I decided to track down someone who could provide some perspective. I made contact with LA-based radio personality Robert Archer, who agreed to have a chat about life, radio, the internet and the impact of the blogosphere.
Robert Archer has been in the radio and broadcast media business for 26 years. In addition to his work directly in the radio industry, he has participated in numerous charity fundraisers, combining his reputation as a popular personality along with his dedication toward helping achieve maximum benefit. He lives in LA with his wife, their dog, their cat and a car that once saw the movie “Christine” — and liked it.
Come on inside and check out what he has to say.
When I began consider interviewing someone to help me gain some perspective, I realized that I was fortunate to know Rob indirectly. I found him easy to engage and willing to gracefully overlook the occasional flyaway feathers.
GreyHawk: For those who are reading this from outside your sphere of influence, I suppose we should start here: “Who is Robert Archer, and why should I ask him about radio broadcasting and trends in broadcast media?”
Rob: I’ve been in radio broadcasting for 26 years, the last 6 in Los Angeles. I started way back when I was still in high school in a tiny Florida town called Belle Glade. I worked my way to Orlando, then Miami, and finally (following my fiancée to her acting career) to Los Angeles.
Robert started with WJRR in Orlando, moving on to WPLL in Miami. He then moved on to KBIG in Los Angeles and hosted the enormously popular Disco Saturday Night and Boogie Nights shows. His wife, Lauren, is an actress, comedienne, and writer. Her new project “Tight Shorts” premiers in podcast form on YakkYakk.com in a couple of weeks.
Rob: Currently, I’m taking a few months off to recharge my batteries. I have some programming and radio deals in the works, but still deciding what my new direction should be. In the interim I’m reading and writing and following politics and the evolving world of radio — terrestrial, satellite and high definition. But if someone wants to make me an offer, feel free to email me!
Robert may be reached via this email address.
GreyHawk: You started off in Florida. How big was the change from Miami to LA?
Rob: Differences from Miami to LA… The biggest is the freeways.
GreyHawk: The size, the traffic, or the shootings?
Rob: In Miami, the freeways (they just call them Interstates) are huge, massive affairs. You can’t miss interchanges because they’re the size of football fields. When we came to LA, land of freeways, we discovered that some onramps were alleys behind a convenience store.
Rob: The lanes are narrower, and the roads are in much worse condition. And yes, traffic is worse.
Rob: And traffic signals to get on the freeways is just insane to me. That only slows up cars merging, which jams up traffic behind them.
Rob: And shootings. Yeah, that’s fun.
GreyHawk: Ever been shot at, or witness any? (I won’t ask about any you might have participated in, or wanted to.)
Rob: I’ve been fortunate. I haven’t witnessed any shootings, or been on the freeway during one of our patented high speed chases covered live on local television.
GreyHawk: Sort of like a “CHiPs, live”, eh? What about the people, and the pace?
Rob: The people and the pace are very similar. In Miami, there’s a melting pot, and obviously there is in L.A. too. Although the suburbs, especially the newer ones, are still very “white bread.” I lived there for a couple of years until my wife forced us to move back into the city. Now we’re “L.A., Beverly Hills adjacent,” as they say.
Trends in broadcast radio:
Like any industry, broadcast radio has to constantly refresh and extend itself, either reinventing itself to add more value to the media or finding new ways to get value out of the existing product.
GreyHawk: I noticed on your blog ( http://archervox.blogspot.com) that Clear Channel is about to start introducing one type of change called “Blinks” — one second spots.
What can you tell me about them?
Rob: “Blinks” are, from what I’m told, one-second radio commercials. (This came down from corporate after I left KBIG, a Clear Channel station in LA.) They’re not really commercials at all. Think of the sounder that’s used in the Intel commercials — the chimes. The idea is to play those chimes in between songs. Listeners will associate that with Intel, and there you go — a commercial that the listener plays in his own mind! The idea is very interesting, futuristic, and to some people, scary. The problem is, how many advertisers have something so recognizable as the Intel chimes? NBC’s bell sounder, maybe? I can’t think of anything else off hand.
Rob: I don’t know if it’s certain CC is going to do that. Maybe it’s just an idea they’re floating.
GreyHawk: It’s like an overt type of subliminal advertising.
Rob: Yep, I think that’s exactly the best way to describe it.
GreyHawk: And that’s where “scary” comes in. Wow. Nothing like increasing the pace of a society already on overload.
Rob: I think that sometimes too. On the other hand, maybe people in today’s day and age are able to process more things at once. Driving cars and talking on cell phones…texting on blackberries while talking to someone while eating a burger…
GreyHawk: You’re right, I think it’s possible that folks can process more info at once. But — all the time?
Rob: I don’t think all the time. We do have to sleep… for now…
GreyHawk: And socialize — sometimes, “chillin'” is important. Families that eat dinner together, instead of grabbing a bite on the run…fast food / fast healthy food (the new trend?)…sometimes, it seems like people — and media — are in a self-escalating rush. Do you think that this is good, bad, or some combination?
Rob: Broadcast media feels that it has to keep up with iPods, the Internet, 400+ channels on satellite TV… so they want to find ways to get more advertising information to the listener faster. It’s an escalating problem, though. Is it good or bad? Probably both… like the Industrial Revolution initially brought a lot of bad with it. But in the progress of time, how much good has it brought us in technology, medicine, communication. Who knows what future good will come out of our information society?
GreyHawk: Good point. I suspect that when people, as a whole, push back on the constant rush in their lives, technology might adjust accordingly. Essentially, I think the capacity to rush and get fast accurate info at will may influence the adjustment factor; the internet and blogosphere appears to be heading toward fast self-correcting news bytes, while folks will learn to take in the time needed to reset, rest and reflect. Do you think Broadcast media — radio — will adjust to include or incorporate along the way? Or is “peak radio” already come and gone?
Rob: It’s hard to say. They counted AM radio out when FM ascended. But smart programmers came along and now you’ve got talk on AM, and stations like KFI in L.A. are some of the top-rated in the nation. However, I think that radio has always been kind of “self-correcting,” as we hope the24-hour cable news networks are. I don’t think blogs, etc. will ever supplant radio. Satellite and HD may supplant terrestrial radio stations eventually, but that will still be “radio.”
GreyHawk: What other types of “reinventing” or “extending” have you seen recently in broadcast media?
Rob: Radio is trying to branch out. First, there are the satellite radios. Many of those in the radio world don’t consider satellite as radio, but on a core level, it’s broadcasting just the same.
GreyHawk: What sort of impact do you see the rise in popularity of the Internet and Blogosphere as having on the industry?
Rob: I think you see some of it already. Cable and radio political pundits now get a lot of information from blogs. You can see it happening all the time. I’ll see a popular story run through the big political blogs like AMERICAblog or Daily Kos, and then that night it’s the top story on Countdown with Keith Olbermann . Obviously, he’s not merely repeating what the blogs said, but the blogs gave him and other pundits an idea of what politically-inclined people are talking and thinking about. It’s a great tool when used that way.
GreyHawk: True — I’ve seen those trends; and as the other media sources begin to cite blogs, the two begin to enhance their capacity to co-exist.
Rob: And because blogs are written by the “average guy” who’s not a professional pundit, in a way it’s like lots of listeners calling a radio station to request a song. Bloggers are “calling in requests” for pundits to cover certain stories.
GreyHawk: There was a recent article in the Huffington Post by Adam Nagourney that postulated how the Blogosphere is for the left what talk radio is for the right. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2006/06/10/ny-times-the-blogosphere_n_22685.html)
As became clear from the rather large and diverse crowd here, the blogosphere has become for the left what talk radio has been for the right: a way of organizing and communicating to supporters. Blogging is nowhere near the force among Republicans as it is among Democrats, and talk radio is a much more effective tool for Republicans.
Regarding “talk radio” and the effectiveness it has had for Republicans, the articles quotes Jerome Armstrong as saying “We don’t spend a lot of time in cars, but we do spend a lot of time on the Internet.” With the increasing connectedness of the world, this could be a significant advantage.
GreyHawk: Do you feel that this is an accurate analogy?
Rob: Absolutely. Totally. Ironically, Karl Rove has noticed blogs now. But in his story, the left only uses blogs to “mobilize hate and anger” while the right just does it to “reach out” and make people feel good. Obviously I’m not trusting in his view of left and right bloggers. I’ve read both, there’s animosity and “hate” coming from both sides. But I do agree left bloggers have a much greater impact to the left, whereas right wing talk radio has the biggest impact with that side of the fence.
GreyHawk: A recent diary on DailyKos, Rove Begins Blog Takeover by Detroit Mark (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/6/16/234559/237) quoted Karl Rove as saying
“I do also think that the Internet has proven to be a more powerful tool on our side than it has been for the other side”
The blogger went on to point out the propensity of left bloggers to identify, but essentially allow, posts by trolls whereas right bloggers tend not to allow comments.
Rob: Yeah, that’s the one I was thinking of. Will he succeed? He’s going to try awfully hard since I think they have an uphill battle going into the midterms.
GreyHawk: I’m thinking he might not — but then again, he appears to have walked away from a treason charge.
Rob: I don’t think that story is over yet. Yes, he’s not going to be charged, but most likely he’ll be testifying at Libby’s trial. And stories will come out about how much he had to do with it.
GreyHawk: Heh heh — one can only hope. OK, speaking more politically now — House Minority Leader Harry Reid had this to say regarding the power and influence of the blogosphere:
“I do believe that each day, they have more impact,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, who will deliver the keynote speech to the group on Saturday night. “Now how far that will go, I don’t think we know that yet.”
But, Mr. Reid added: “One of the reasons I so admire them is they have the ability to spread the truth like no entities I’ve dealt with in recent years. We could never have won the battle to stop privatization of Social Security without them.”
GreyHawk: Do you think the increase in the power of blogs to “get the message out” is directly competing for eyes and ears, and having a direct impact on advertising dollars, programming and perhaps interaction with the public?
Rob: I think that bloggers are reaching a different audience than that of talk radio. Talk radio’s been around a few years now, and some people have practically grown up with it. A younger audience is a little more cynical and jaded. They have ideals, they’re young and full of energy and generally tend to fall on the left side of the aisle — they’re not interested in talk radio which is very conservative-heavy. So they hit the blogs, and that’s why liberal bloggers are having more success at motivating that particular political base.
Prior to actually sitting down and starting the interview, Robert and I exchanged emails with a few links to articles and blog entries that we each thought would make good topics to touch upon. One of them was
Congress is attempting to kill NPR and PBS again:
Due to mutual time constraints, at the start of the interview we were not certain which articles that we’d both read…
GreyHawk: Did you have a chance to read that dKos story on killing NPR/PBS?
Rob: No, I didn’t, but I’ve heard bits and pieces about the issue. I think it goes more to the current conservative thinking of not spending any government money on services or societal support. Your hardcore conservatives want to dump the NEA, the Arts programs, etc. So NPR and PBS would fit that bill. And of course, they tend to be liberal (or actually, people vs. government), so that helps the conservative base see it as kind of economically “unnecessary.”
GreyHawk: What is the current trend in regulation — how do you view it impacting the industry?
Additionally, where you think the legislation will end up — both the current legislation, as well as the direction of future legislation — and the direction you see the industry taking in light of this.
Rob: The latest round of FCC regulation (increasing fines ten-fold) will — at least to radio listeners — will only drive them to go for satellite radio, to pay a premium to hear content that would be scrubbed clean by terrestrial broadcasters. However, it is a pendulum. It’ll swing back, it always does. Regulation works for a while, then someone comes along to push the envelope back. Plus, people get tired of “safe” entertainment after a while.
GreyHawk: The song “Living on the Edge” by Aerosmith comes to mind.
Rob: Good song. I was working at an alternative rock station when that song came out. Ah, and those were the days of grunge… Good times, good times.
GreyHawk: OK — now let’s swing our conversational pendulum back a bit to the industry and the internet. I’ve got two final “impact” questions:
GreyHawk: First one — Is there any big reaction in the industry to the increasing influence of blogging? The second one is related, so feel free to address them both if it makes more sense. What is the impact, if any, of the internet and of blogs on the format, form, function and services available through the broadcast media?
Rob: I don’t think there’s a big “reaction” to it. The talk pundits, as I said earlier, are using them as tools. But blogging in general? I’ve seen a few music and entertainment stations have their personalities and DJ’s “blog” for the listeners. Is it interesting? Maybe.
Rob: The Internet on the other hand has had a major impact. But radio stations have been on top of it. Podcasting, streaming, they’re there. Taking advantage of it.
GreyHawk: What about the impact of blogging on rating and popularity of radio programs? Have they had an impact on advertising — directly (through email campaigns) or indirectly (by diverting some advertising dollars)?
Rob: Blogging isn’t having an impact on radio advertising dollars, so far as I can tell. Blogging, however, can add a few listeners. Blogging helps Air America for instance — talking about an upcoming Al Franken interview, for instance. Blogging is sending some viewers to Countdown with Olbermann on MSNBC, one of my favorite pundit show. Especially when Olbermann and O’Reilly are having another spat.
GreyHawk: Yeah — those two kids. Will they ever learn? 🙂
Rob: I dare say Keith has a bit more ammunition. But O’Reilly has the ratings, by far. At least, for now.
GreyHawk: They’ve been fading, from reports I’ve seen. I think that’s spawned some of Bill’s return fire — I don’t think he wants Keith to make any bigger impact than he already has.
Rob: Olbermann’s been on an upward trend for a while… He’s definitely the biggest thing on MSNBC. It’s still small ratings compared to O’Reilly’s. BUT… O’Reilly has been on a downward trend for a bit. Growth and decline are the factors to watch.
GreyHawk: I know a few folks on several blogs are gleefully watching them.
GreyHawk: At the start of the interview, you’d mentioned you were reading, writing and following politics. An anonymous source mentioned that you might have a book in the works. Any truth to that rumor? Or anything you’d like comment on?
Orson, looking conspicuously anonymous.
Rob: To be totally honest, there’s been a book in the works for a few years! But I am, this time, actually working up an outline. I’ve been writing and polishing off some stories and begging writer friends of mine to show them to editors. And I may have a podcasting deal in the works, along with some career opportunities coming down the pike. I might just wind up back in the amazing world of broadcasting. Unless my wife, who’s pitching a few shows on her own, makes it big first. Then, I’m retiring.
Cecil appears not to hear any talk of “anonymous” sources. Inset: Cecil cruising the internet under an anonymous pseudonym.