R.A.P. Interview: Doug Harris

JV: You do a lot of seminars and workshops. Do you have some that you would recommend for production people?
Doug: I do a session called, “Unleashing the Creative Animal in You,” and also, “How to Steal Your Next Idea,” and also, “33 Things You Can Do To Ignite Your Creative Spark Today.” Those are my three big ones on creativity, and I think all three of those are available on CD from my website. But I think that Dan O’Day has some of the best stuff out there for production people, and the good thing about Dan O’Day is that he’s very generous with his tips and suggestions. If you go to www.danoday.com and click on “Articles and Information,” you can get a lot of great references from him that don’t cost a thing. Plus, he’s got all kinds of books and CDs and such that he sells.

JV: What’s your take on the future of terrestrial radio versus the satellites and iPods?
Doug: I think the satellite radio people owe a debt of gratitude to their PR and advertising machine. I think that the frenzy they whipped up among everyone from Wall Street to Wal-Mart about satellite radio is purely a function of promotion. It’s not surprising that everybody knows about satellite radio; they spent $750 million on advertising between Sirius and XM. Whereas, when is the last time you saw a local radio station doing a TV campaign? Even when we promote our advantages, we’re only doing it on the radio airwaves. We’re not spending money in external marketing. So it’s no wonder that everybody’s worked up to a fever pitch about satellite radio.

But here’s my take on it; the only thing we really can compare satellite radio to is cable television. Cable television comes along in the late 1970s, early 1980s, and it kind of flounders around. People think it’s kind of interesting until it comes up with two pieces of compelling content, and that is HBO and MTV. All of a sudden, everybody’s got to have cable television. “Oh my God, did you see that ‘Oh Ricky, You’re So Fine’ video?” “Yes, I saw it 17 times yesterday.” “Isn’t it wonderful?” “Yes, it is.” Movies without commercials, movies with actresses taking off their clothes, movies with cuss words on television? “Oh, my gosh, I have to get that!” You see?

Now, fast forward about 20 years later. Cable television has not put broadcast television out of business. In fact, there are more networks now than there were in the 1980s, and there’s still no effective way of measuring cable television viewership in the same fashion that there’s no effective way of measuring satellite radio listenership. We know how many subscribers there are, but it’s 100 channels.

The bottom line is, it’s never going to be about the delivery system. I don’t care if it’s something on my belt, or a chip inserted into my brain, it’s all going to be about content. We have got to be the providers of compelling content, and let the listener and the consumer decide about the delivery system. Satellite radio just got its first compelling content, play-by-play sports and Howard Stern. I just don’t know that the ‘70s channel is going to be compelling enough to make millions and millions of listeners subscribe to satellite radio.

I do think that Howard Stern has already demonstrated that he’s going to take a big chunk out of the market, but I just don’t think that we’re all going to be out of jobs because of satellite radio. We’re going to be out of jobs because what we’re doing is boring and doesn’t have any bite. And I don’t mean that in a vulgar or profane sense. I mean that it’s not very exciting. If satellite radio had designed a play book for their world domination and in it said, “Now, if radio will just do this, we’ll be great,” they’d be smiling. We’re following their play book exactly. We’re homogenizing our music so that it’s not particularly deep in any category. We’re voice-tracking our personalities. We’re taking local out of our presentation. That makes us sound just like satellite radio. All the music’s the same, all the jocks sound the same. It’s basically time and temperature after 10 a.m., except we can’t do the time anymore, because it’s a voice track situation. We’re not doing promotions anymore, we’re not advertising. We’re not doing contests or sweepstakes except national contests and sweepstakes. Where’s the advantage to local radio?

JV: The only difference is we’re making them sit through commercials.
Doug: That’s right, although I don’t think that satellite with no commercials will last forever in much the same way that some of the more popular cable TV channels, like TLC and A&E, all have commercials now. I think that’s an eventuality, particularly with Mel at the helm of Sirius.

JV: If you could do it all over again, would you start in radio and spend as much time there as you did? What would you do differently?
Doug: If I had to do it all over again, I don’t think I would change a thing. I started working for a family-owned radio station. I was able to learn a lot of different peoples’ jobs in a short period of time. If I wanted approval on something, I only had to walk down the hallway. I later got to work in their other radio stations as a consultant, so I got experience in a number of different formats in a relatively short period of time. It’s been a sweet, wonderful ride.

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