Tag Archives: CNBC

What I’ve Learned After Six Months of Voice Tracking

In the past, I have used this blog to write about WVBR, the first stop in my radio career. The station, in Ithaca, New York, has a commercial FM license and is owned by a non-profit corporation consisting of students at Cornell University, where I earned my undergraduate degree. I spent four years as an air personality on WVBR and I was the station’s general manager from 1985 to 1987, where I had a team that included iHeartMedia’s Tom Poleman, SiriusXM’s Steve Blatter, CNBC’s Jessica Ettinger, and syndicated host Todd Schnitt helping me run the station.

WVBR Ithaca

WVBR is still going strong today, staffed by a dedicated group of Cornell students and community volunteers, and offers an Alternative music format during the week and a wide array of weekend specialty programming. I have remained an active alumnus of the organization and—after serving on its board of directors from 2006 to 2014—currently serve in an informal advisory role.

When the pandemic lockdowns hit, WVBR faced a crisis, as many of the student volunteers who normally hold down air shifts would be unable to do so. This created an opportunity for alumni and other non-student volunteers to step up and provide at least a minimal level of personality for the station’s now-automated programming via voice tracking. With a lot more time on my hands while the pandemic kept me working from home and not spending my usual eight to ten nights a month in hotel rooms while traveling for business, I decided to seize the opportunity. Thus, more than three decades after I hung up my headphones, I was back on the air, hosting a weekly four-hour show of Alternative music from my home more than 500 miles away in North Carolina!

Warren Kurtzman WVBR Cornell

A picture of a much younger version of me, when voice tracking didn’t exist

I am pleased to report that “Wednesday With Warren” is still growing strong and tomorrow marks the 29th week in a row I’ve hosted the show! As I reflect on the past six months, I’ve learned a few things about using voice tracking:

 

  1. It takes a lot more time to do a good show than I realized. When I volunteered to do this, I incorrectly assumed that it would not require much of a time commitment. I quickly learned, however, that if I wanted to do the show right—in other words, go beyond reading liners, station promos, and song introductions and talk with knowledge about the music I’m playing and relevant events in the community—it required a good deal of preparation. I am getting more efficient as the weeks pass, but I still find that I must put a minimum of two hours into the show each week, even if recording the breaks themselves takes me less than 30 minutes.

 

  1. Nothing replaces listening to the show live. I can listen to my recorded breaks repeatedly before I upload them to the station, but nothing helps me get better at this than listening to how they fit into the overall live flow of the radio station. Since work commitments often prevent me from listening to my show live, I use DAR.fm to record all four hours of my show and listen to the full playback, critiquing myself along the way and making notes for things I should try to do better the follow week.

 

  1. It can be a lot of fun! I find myself talking about my show with many of my friends, describing it as my “passion project.” Even when my crazy business travel life resumes, I intend to keep the show going for as long as WVBR needs me to do so.

 

  1. I made a very smart career decision in 1987. This experience has added to my respect for air personalities; it is hard to do this well and only the most talented and dedicated people can create compelling content, especially when using voice tracking. There was a time when I naively believed that an on-air role was going to lead me to my career goals. Thank goodness I made the move to the research side of the business all those years ago!

 

I don’t believe anything will ever be as powerful for radio stations as truly compelling and highly entertaining personalities who are “live and local,” but I am enough of a realist to recognize that voice tracking is here to stay. My experience with it over the last six months has convinced me that with effort and preparation, any air personality dedicated to their craft—and possessing more talent than me!—can use the technology to create compelling radio.

You can listen to “Wednesday With Warren” on WVBR between 9AM and 1PM Eastern time on 93.5 FM in the Ithaca area, wvbr.com, Live365, or TuneIn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ongoing Tension Between Brand and Content

Tuesdays With Coleman

This week’s blog features international intrigue, from Brazil to Japan to Lebanon. It also involves alleged financial crimes totaling in the tens of millions of dollars. The story I’ll describe even includes smuggling a fugitive in an audio equipment box aboard a private plane in a daring overnight escape.

Do I have you hooked yet? The big idea I just presented is designed to do just that; my challenge now is to deliver content as satisfying as that concept. My goal is to make clear that aligning a big idea with the details of execution is often a difficult challenge.

That challenge is exactly what I imagine executives at CNBC faced back in January when the story of Carlos Ghosn dominated business news.

If you’re not familiar with the Ghosn story, I’ll share the highlights first. Carlos Ghosn, a citizen of Brazil, Lebanon, and France, is a legend in the international automotive industry. His incredibly successful run began to come apart a few years ago, when—while living in Japan and serving as chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance—Ghosn was arrested and charged by Japanese authorities with under-reporting his earnings and misusing corporate assets, charges that Ghosn vehemently denied. The story captured the attention of the business world and came to a head last December when Ghosn hired an American private-security contractor who successfully smuggled him out of Japan in a private plane and eventually got him safely to his home in Lebanon, where he has remained since.

Carlos Ghosn, former CEO of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, is an internationally wanted fugitive

On January 8th, Ghosn held his first press conference since his escape. As a voracious consumer of business news and a long-time admirer of Carlos Ghosn, I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say. Also, the dominant nature of the CNBC brand as the leading source of televised business news left no doubt in my mind where to turn for coverage.

As the press conference unfolded, however, something funny happened: it was dreadful. The event was poorly staged, poorly lit, and Ghosn droned on in heavily-accented English heaving accusations at obscure figures in the Japanese automotive industry and government. In simplest terms, the content was awful.

I will share with you that I start virtually every weekday watching CNBC; I stream it on my iPad, which I carry around my house as I go through my pre-workday rituals. The morning of the Ghosn press conference was one of the few where I turned off CNBC; if I were a member of Nielsen’s PPM panel, this would have been the perfect example of a “tune out.”

At Coleman Insights, we often talk about the tension that exists between brands and content. The Ghosn-CNBC example epitomizes this perfectly. As the leader in business news, CNBC had to cover the news conference to deliver on its brand promise; however, as the content it offered by doing that was so poor, the network managed to turn away a superfan like me.

How could CNBC have handled this better? For one thing, they could have ended the live coverage of the news conference after a few minutes and then reported any new revelations that came out during it after-the-fact. That this coverage went on for as long as it did makes me wonder what the executives at CNBC were thinking to this day.

The audio brands we work with deal with this tension all the time, and as a result, we have developed a concept we call the Brand-Content MatrixSM.

Brand Content Matrix

Brands should aim to be in the upper right quadrant of the Brand-Content Matrix.

Doing things that simultaneously enhance your brand and deliver a great content experience for your listeners is always preferable. What differentiates the best managers is the ability to handle those situations that fall in the upper-left or lower-right quadrants of the matrix. The Carlos Ghosn press conference was an upper-left quadrant event for CNBC—right in line with its brand but poor content for its audience.

Music radio stations often struggle with finding enough strong-testing titles to play from genres they know are important to their brands. Podcasters and radio talk hosts conduct interviews with experts on the subject matters that are at the very core of their brands, but sometimes find that those experts are not compelling personalities. Radiothons that support charities often feature content that drives listener tune-out but delivers great brand value.

Making sure you never lean too heavily on only brand- or content-enhancing activities is crucial to the success of most programming managers. Doing so requires deep insights into what your brand means to your listeners and what content they truly find compelling.