Radio Innovation Born From Pain

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(By Gary Krantz) Lee Harris is an air talent on one of the country’s biggest stations, but his experience across other segments of the radio business have inspired a company and products that may just reshape the industry’s future. We got a look at his thought process.

Krantz: Lee, you are one of the most respected broadcasters in radio news, but you have this other “little job.”
Harris: I’ve been in radio since I was 13: on-air, management, owner/operator. For the last 23 years, I’ve done mornings on 1010 WINS/New York as top-of-the-hour anchor in morning drive. You know, one of those “temporary” jobs that last a quarter of a century.

Lee Harris

Krantz: You’re a successful anchor and former station owner. When did you see the need for a company like ControlRoomPro?
Harris: Well, I’ve always been more of an operations guy. Back in the ’90s, I saw that IT could solve some problems we had transporting news content, so we started developing projects that helped reporters in the field upload recorded stories. As technology caught up, we begin working on products to go live — because the best radio is live radio.

Krantz: Tell us about some of your core solutions.
Harris: I’m proudest of QGoLive, which has an interesting story. I’ve always hated phone calls masquerading as live broadcasts. Back when I had my station, my sports guys hated me because I made them drag a 25-pound tube Marti unit to a game, and they’d have to raise the antenna, run power cords, and it was a lot more work than just connecting alligator clips to the phone.

But I never liked phone quality for newsgathering, and actualities were often unintelligible. So about 13 years ago, we started playing around with IP transmission to get broadcast-quality audio from the field without a lot of heavy equipment.

1010 WINS reporter John Montone using QGoLive

The mission became getting reporters on the air, broadcast quality, with the simplicity of a phone call. And luckily, this coincided with the spread of the iPhone. We built the original app, Live Report Pro, so you could hit the button and get on-the-air broadcast quality using just the internal iPhone microphone. It worked pretty well.

Then we started getting requests for features, like the ability to insert actualities into reports. The followup app, rechristened QGoLive, was turned into a “Swiss Army knife,” with everything you need to go live, record, and script news reports in the field.

Krantz: Who are your primary customers for QGoLive?
Harris: Originally, we targeted — and got — News stations. But now, there are few stations with large news departments. So we branched out into Sports and Talk. I think in the current media environment, radio’s ability to go live is probably its strongest suit. I think QGoLive can really help stations go live from more places more often, especially since the talent can usually provide the necessary devices (iPhone, iPad, laptop) themselves.

Anchor Dashboard in the 1010 WINS studios

Krantz: Discuss your other major platform, the Anchor Dashboard.
Harris:
For many years we had people at WINS with the job title of service aide. A big part of their job was running in bits of information — weather, sports scores, stock markets — on scraps of paper to the air studio. The information was necessary, but the transfer method was pretty inefficient, especially in the modern era.

In 2009, I was helping to launch an all-News station in Moscow, and they had a rudimentary screen in the studio, with temperature, dollars-to-rubles conversion, other bits of information, and that gave me the idea to aggregate everything an anchor needed onto a dedicated display. From that, I got the idea for Anchor Dashboard.

That was a solution custom-made for News stations. We’ve since done format extensions in music formats, like Country Dashboard, with a lot of the same service information, plus a constant feed of country music news and audio, fed directly to the dashboard.

Krantz: So the vision in developing services is organic, and comes from your own experience.
Harris: Yeah, well, in the IT world, sometimes solutions are developed for problems that don’t actually exist. In my case, I know the problem exists because I have the problem. My experience is usually shared by others in the business.

Krantz: How did you get funding?
Harris: In the case of Anchor Dashboard, the beta was paid for by the market manager of CBS/New York. We were going to build it as a desktop program, but he didn’t like the price. I thought, “If we did this web-based, we can probably bring it in lower,” and it turned out to be a much better way to go.

Krantz: How are these products different from when you started?
Harris: People are constantly coming to us with needs we try to accommodate. My developers are a little unhappy because I’m too responsive to requests. But if I think of something that can be used by more than one client, we try to add it to either Anchor Dashboard or QGoLive.

Krantz: As a morning man, your hours aren’t like the rest of us. But what keeps you up at night?
Harris: Well, with everything IP-based, it’s about system failure. Somebody has to mind the store 24/7, because that’s the broadcasting business. Obviously, there can be failures at the station level, but while we’ve done everything to mitigate against it, it’s the potential for some kind of system-wide failure that would in theory keep me up at night, if I could afford to be up at night.

Krantz: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Harris: Serving the radio industry? I think the real action is in the outward-facing solutions that help stations connect with the audience and monetize those connections. Fortunately, we have lots of great minds working on those solutions, but we can always use more.

My work, as we discussed, tends to be a little self-serving, but extensible. So if there are others in the business who have a studio problem that can be solved by tech, maybe take a shot at solving it in-house. You might have something the rest of us need.

That’s what happened with QGoLive and Anchor Dashboard. Among other things, we’ve help enable great talent to do great shows without leaving the comforts of home. And the more of that we get, the better we’ll be as a business.

Gary Krantz is the CEO and Founder of The Krantz Media Group, KMG Networks and KMG Music. He can be reached at [email protected]

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