The Conclave

On Asking Anything

Jul 13, 2017 -- 9:03am

If we’ve been to an industry convention together at any time in the past 30 or so years, you’ve probably seen me stride to the audience microphone as soon as the Q&A starts. Maybe more than once during the same convention. Possibly more than once during the same session, although I like to think otherwise.

I’m sorry if I was the guy who made you groan as soon as he raised his hand. There were always one or two of those at any convention. But I was there as a journalist, and I needed something to write about; sometimes it happened that panels could go 50 minutes without the obvious question being asked.  Beyond that, I was genuinely curious, and genuinely excited to talk about radio with people I respected. I’m sorry if there happened to be people in the room who were hoping to wrap it up and go to lunch.

I’m sure I asked some “shit disturber” questions. Mostly, as is the policy of the Ross on Radio column, I came in peace. Occasionally, I would be at the NAB Radio Show (later NAB/RAB) group-heads panel and I would hear a group head say something that was absolutely correct — the need to maintain rate integrity; the need to address spotload — and it would be so unlike his company’s real day-to-day practices. I always wanted to ask those CEOs if they knew that their managers had gone rogue. But I never did it. 

The provocative question was the province of former R&R bureau chief Pat Clawson. Pat was an investigative journalist whose beat just happened to be telecommunications. After he left R&R in particular, I remember Pat’s questions as unsparing and sometimes prefaced by sharp comments about the effects of deregulation and consolidation on the business. There was always a hum in the room when Pat stepped up to the mic.

In general, there were always the panel questions that would have been better couched as “I have some brief remarks, but don’t worry, I have a question, too.” I’m sure I did that, too. At least I had a question coming. Some people didn’t.

There were also certain perennial questions that you could count on at an industry convention. The one that inevitably elicited groans in those days before digital music was the small-town programmer who couldn’t get record service or chart-reporting status. But that person wasn’t wrong. Because people who did have reporting status could ask for all sorts of boodle from the labels in that era. Why did anybody have to beg to play the music? Or have to ask that question in a roomful of people because non-reporters didn’t get their calls answered?

You will have access to great people throughout Conclave 2017, beginning with the “Ask Me Almost Anything” session that kicks things off at 9 a.m. Two of the panelists are broadcasters I’ve been fortunate to work with at some point. All are people I respect.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s why they’re here.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions that begin with “I’m in a small market and …” or “I’m trying to get in to broadcasting and ...” Nobody at Conclave will groan, and if any folks at any other convention ever snickered at that set-up, shame on them.

There is no shortage of questions about the industry at the moment. How can we improve the streaming experience? How can broadcasters compete in digital with offerings that go beyond the stick and, more important, how can they be found? How can radio indeed maintain rate integrity or improve spotload? And, yes, what are the options for people who say, “I’m trying to get into broadcasting … ”, because they’re crucial to the future now.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about smart speakers, and how stations are going to be found by Alexa and her friends. “AMAA” will be followed by a panel on that topic, but smart speakers are a question that everybody needs to have a considered opinion on. And the panel that follows will be better if panelists have the thoughts of their group heads to draw upon.

I’m looking forward to hearing your questions, and seeing you at Conclave. -- Sean Ross


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