Friday, April 28, 2006

Keels, Wheels, and Other Deals

To get something done, a committee should consist of no more than three men, two of whom are absent.
--Robert Copeland
What would your reaction be to the Star Spangled Banner being sung in Spanish? A foreign-language version of the National Anthem, with a slightly different set of lyrics, is being recorded in conjunction with more pro-immigration reform demonstrations this weekend…

In the land of fruits and nuts, the nuttiest are endorsing a walkout of schools and businesses by illegal immigrants in California on Monday. For the INS, this ought to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

And in the Lone Star State, cigarette taxes are going up. Between the health hazards and the increased cost, you might wonder how anyone can afford to smoke? Obviously, cigs are for people with money to burn…

Speaking of money to burn—what’d you pay for gasoline this week? It’s very interesting that with all the hand wringing and whining, I still find I am having to thread through the throngs at gasoline stations to fill up The Red Sled. Don’t you find it a little interesting that with all the nattering naybobs of negativity in Washington posturing on this issue, most of the folks you and I know are continuing to commit commerce on a regular basis?

I bought a new car last week.

Don’t want to boast, but I will tell you this was not an impulse buy; I’d been shopping for a while, keeping an eye open for just the right deal. I knew what I wanted, and how much I was willing to pay for it (and that decision was not based on a monthly payment). I’d been saving for a while, too. When preparation meets opportunity, success prevails.

So instead of puttering around in my 15-year old paid-for ragtop (1991 Mazda Miata), affectionately named “White Fang,” I am now stylishly cruising around in a half-paid for 2005 Mazdaspeed Miata, affectionately named “The Red Sled,” thanks to the metallic rouge it wears.

It’s a screamer, too.

Last night I attended a reception at an automobile dealership in Houston called Driver Source, where they sell high-end Porsches, Ferrari’s, and Jaguars, and for a fee, will restore your classic or exotic car to mint condition. They'll garage it for you, too, in a climated-controlled stall. Think of it as a glorified barn for mechanical animals of multiple horses--starting at 200-hp.

The event was a preview for next weekend’s Keels and Wheels Concourse d’ Elegance at the Lakewood Yacht Club on Clear Lake, and the cars on display were nothing short of inspiring: a 1957 Chaparral race car, a 1955 Maserati, loads of perfectly restored Corvettes…and lots of testosterone in the air.

During the evening, owner Jeff Moore and his crew were treating attendees to joy-rides in open-cockpit Ferraris and Porsches. Jeff knows how to pull-off events like this. He rented a posse of off-duty law enforcement officers to stop traffic on the street as these sports cars revved and rocketed out of the driveway and down the street.

As I was leaving for the night, I pulled in behind a scorching, yellow Porsche Carrera, with Jeff behind the wheel and a flaxen-haired passenger alongside, as they ripped up the asphalt. I’m pretty sure we hit 100-mph, thanks to the private traffic control, before I had to back down and turned off to find my way home. Nice to know a Miata can hang with a Porsche.

I think The Red Sled and I are going to get along famously.

See you Monday on the Radio.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Non-Sense

In the movie, “The Sixth Sense,” Haley Joe Osment tells Bruce Willis he can see dead people everywhere he looks. If a sequel to the movie were to be filmed this week, it could be entitled “The Non-sense,” with Osment re-phrasing his famous line in the script to say, “I see stupid people all around me.”

Nothing gets done in Washington until it reaches the threshold of pain no one can tolerate. Then, our sage leaders shift into “crisis mode” to solve the ills of society and the economy with knee-jerk responses and half-baked schemes, that in most cases do very little else than make them look good in the evening news, and do not address root causes of the problems.

The Senate wants to know whether America's oil companies are paying all the taxes they should. A valid question…but why pick on just the oil companies? Let’s also look into the brokerage industry…let’s look at the credit card banks…I think it would be interesting to examine the barristers of the country to determine their level of tax compliance, too.

But you and I both know why the oil companies are taking the heat…and it’s ironic, that the august body of decision makers in our nation’s capitol are looking to make scape goats of people like Exxon CEO Lee Raymond because Congress over the past 15-years has made poor decisions relative to energy in this country.

A special Senate committee panel is asking the IRS to let them peek at oil companies' tax returns, following ConocoPhillips’ latest quarterly report showing 13% growth in profits--thanks to stronger exploration and production results.

Excuse me, but isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

By the way, this was the best first-quarter earnings report since Phillips Petroleum Co. and Conoco Inc. joined at the hip in 2002. What message does Congress send when they go on witch-hunts into how businesses do their job…especially when it’s been Congress making it more difficult for companies in this sector to survive and perform?

Haley Joe Osment would see no limits to public stupidity in “The Non-sense,” if filmed on Capitol Hill, where Congress is now talking about sending $100 rebate checks to Americans (translation: voters) to make up for the higher price of gasoline.

Washington does not have the market on assinity cornered. Boneheadedness is also pervasive in even the smallest of constituencies, like Beeville, Texas, where county officials there are jumping on the bandwagon for a boycott of the Exxon gas stations in that town—all three of them.

The only result of that misguided notion will be to bankrupt one of Beeville’s families which runs those three gasoline stations. Other businesses with which that family transacts for goods and services would also lose dollars in a ripple effect through that economic microcosm.

Politicians of all stripes are similarly scrambling to react, not think-through the problem to act appropriately and decisively. Earlier this week President Bush announced steps to ease environmental restrictions on fuel blends, temporarily suspend shipments of crude into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and order federal investigators to search for signs of price-fixing. None of these steps will affect what you’re paying at the pump. It's all feel-good smoke blown up your skirt/kilt.

What no one is telling you is that no oil has been going into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve lately—it’s too expensive, and there hasn’t been enough spare petroleum to go around. This point rings hollow.

Instead of looking for price-fixing, our “watchdogs” in Washington would do well to cast their gaze on Wall Street, where it would be very telling to know how speculators have artificially inflated the supply-demand dynamic, thus creating higher prices.

There are enough external factors of a geopolitical and supply-demand nature to keep the oil markets “roiled” without the money mongers piling on. Michael Norman earlier this week boldly suggested a moratorium on investment into the oil futures markets by pension funds and non-industrial users of oil, just to minimize the speculative factor in the pricing.

That’ll never fly. It makes too much sense.

No, the people in power would rather pull strings and push buttons that have no direct connection to the problem, thru taxing oil companies’ profits, punishing retail marketers, and pandering to the whining of the American public through rebates. None of that is going to make a drop of difference in the bucket…or in this case, in a barrel.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How We Rate, Part Deaux

“How many of your audience listen to The BizRadioNetwork,” I am often asked.
“All of them,” I usually respond.

It’s a fair question, until you look into the methodologies used to measure audience listening…and realize that we’re not into mass numbers as much as we are levels of quality in the audience we draw.

Over the past year as we’ve grown our Network, we’ve taken names and notes: Names of customers drawn to the businesses who advertise on the stations. I’m not going to share their personal information, but I can share the qualitative evidence gleaned from these listeners to show a composite of the audience we cultivate here.

The BizRadioNetwork listener has an average household income exceeding $190,000…with an average net worth of $1.5-million. One third are millionaires…one in six are Multi-millionaires. They live in houses that are triple the value of the Houston and Dallas MSA.

Our listeners are fairly even distributed between the ages of 25 and 54—a third are 25-34, another third are 35-44, and the largest third are 45-54, according to sampling rendered by Arbitron earlier this year, using their new “Personal People Meter” (PPM) technology. Our Audience prefers to watch Lifetime, ESPN and Nickelodeon instead of MTV, The Food Network, or VH-1.

Arbitron is moving away from the archaic diary-sampling methodology, towards the PPM that actively records listening habits by picking up an encoded, sub-audible signal emitted by radio stations so that their listeners can be identified and tallied. About the only way you can screw with this is to wear your PPM into the audio department at Best Buy. The new methodology is more precise, and eliminates the guess work by providing hard data on who, what, when and where people listen to Radio.

The bottom line is this: stations that live by “the numbers” also die by the numbers. Sure, a station can promise you hundreds of thousands of listeners in its audience—but how many of them are qualified prospects for your business? Lots of stations like to trumpet that they’re “number one.”
So what?
Everyone is Number One at something.
And so are we.

Number One in a solid, pre-qualified audience able to act upon calls to action for purchases, investments, and political clout.

Number One in listeners with discerning taste, a sense of value, and a canniness for making money.

In short, we’re Number One in creating an audience base that most other stations would covet.

In terms of mass, we’re never going to compete.
Don’t need to.
Who listens to us?
All the one’s who count.

Monday, April 24, 2006

How We Rate, Part 1

I promised you a glimpse behind the curtain at The BizRadioNetwork, revealing some real results of our labors for the first fourteen months of our operation. Let me first explain why what I am about to show you is significant.

In the world of Commercial Radio, price is determined by audience size. Audience size is determined by popular content. The more people who listen, the more a station can demand in rates for its airtime.

Stations pay the light bill (and their employees) by selling airtime, and the more airtime sold, the more profitable the station. The paradox is, the more commercials a station plays (increasing its profitability), the number of people listening diminishes (because of the loss of content.) A successful, revenue generating station can soon implode as it kills off the audience it attracted by driving it away with less content and more commercials.

Audience listening has always been measured theoretically. Those of you who luxuriate in statistics will really get off on this, because Radio listening metrics are nothing more than educated guesses. In Television, The Neilsen Ratings are king, with nightly reports on how many watched what show. In Radio, The Arbitron Company is the primary ratings provider.

Basically, Arbitron calls you up and asks you to take part in a survey of your Radio listening habits. They ask you to write down what stations you listen to, where you’re listening (at home, at work, in the car, etc.) and for how long, in a weekly diary. Then they ask you to return that completed diary.

Arbitron crunches the numbers on all the diaries they receive, and after weeding out the one’s that are unusable (some people just can't color inside the lines), render an official estimate of a city's Radio listening audience. Generally, the workable sample of diaries is between 1,000 and 1,500, and from this small number of representative diaries, Arbitron will generate a “book” of who listens to what Radio Station for how long. They chop up this data six ways to Sunday, with demographic information breakouts, so that if you’re wanting to advertise on a station that plays Traditional Swahili Standards, Top-40, or Gregorian Chants, you’ll know where to go.

Swahili and Gregorian Monks generally don’t appeal to a very wide audience, so you aren’t likely to see many stations catering to that crowd. Business Talk formats fare about as well, but for a different reason: while the information is valuable, it is of interest to only a limited segment of the listening audience.

“So how did you guys pull-off putting The BizRadioNetwork on the air,” you may ask.

Glad you asked that.
We did it because enough people recognized the value of the format, and put their money where their mouths—or in this case, their ears—are, and invested cash in the company to resurrect the format.

“So how many people are listening?”

Wrong question.
The answer is not how many are listening, but what kind of listeners are attracted to our Network. The question should be “who listens” to The BizRadioNetwork, and anecdotally, how many are there?

Arbitron is not going to reflect well the audience this Network has amassed. Why? Remember the mechanics of how Arbitron surveys listening audiences? Ask yourself—if I called you and offered you a dollar to list your radio listening habits in a daily diary, and send it back to me…would you?

Frankly, I haven’t the time to spend on that, and you probably don’t either. What kind of individual has time to perform such a survey? Likely, not the kind of listener The BizRadioNetwork seeks to attract…so, any Arbitron measurement of our listening audience is going to be flawed by virtue of an under sampling.

How many people listen to the BizRadioNetowork? All of the ones who do.
And what I will show you tomorrow are the hard data points about these people that we’ve gathered: how old they are, what they make, what they drive…and what they listen to. I will also share with you an exciting improvement to gathering data on Radio listening habits that Arbitron is testing, which shows promise in providing more accurate surveys, translating into more accurate reports on stations' performance.

I think you will find it a compelling story, and a fascinating peek behind the driving force—the mojo—of this Network. See you in the morning on the Radio.

Friday, April 21, 2006

This Issue is a Gas

Today’s New York Times is running a piece by Michael Janofsky about how eager the issue-hungry Democratic party has become to exploit the angst over fuel prices….In Minnesota, Democratic Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar is making the issue the centerpiece of her campaign. Ms. Klobuchar says it "is one of the first things people bring up" at her campaign stops.

Riddle me this, Ms. Kobluchar—what can you do about it? How much about the issue do you understand?

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which advises House candidates, sent a memo out to candidates with ideas for using this issue to their advantage. The piece includes a "sample statement" recommending candidates tell you, "Americans are tired of giving billion-dollar tax subsidies to energy companies and foreign countries while paying record prices at the pump." Right there is where the Dems and I part company.

What we do not need is more divisiveness on another issue; what we need are sound measures for solving the problem. Do you find it troubling that anytime there’s a problem to be solved, instead of seeking a solution, these guys look for a scapegoat?

How many years have been spent advocating policies that would reduce the reliance on imported oil? How much time has been invested promoting more domestic energy production?
Remember the energy bill that President Bush signed last August, which encouraged conservation and greater use of ethanol in gasoline? The reality is that the law could have done more for domestic oil supplies if Democrats had not fought so hard against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Granted, drilling in the ANWR is not the be-all end-all solution, but it’s a step in the right direction, and certainly more productive of a solution instead of driving wedges into every fissure that can be found.

Do you find it telling that the same Democrats who are so eager to blame Republicans for the situation did little to advance energy measures in the eight years their boy was in the White House.
Guess he was drilling for something else.
And gasoline was “cheap” by today’s prices.

Ideas for greater investment in "clean fuel" technologies, more incentives for driving fuel-efficient vehicles, and stronger steps toward reducing emissions of greenhouse gases certainly have merit, but are long term approaches; they’re not going to make $4/gallon gasoline go away any time soon.

The irony is that the inability of congress to work harmoniously on this issue is why we’re paying more for gasoline with no MBTE and limited ethanol additive to go around. Great thinking, Mensa’s.

By the way--more than 30 Democratic House members opposed the Republican version of the energy bill last year...but there were 75 Democrats in the House and 25 in the Senate who did vote to pass Mr. Bush's bill.

Another thoughtful brainstorm in the Democrat’s memorandum to candidates is to hold a campaign event at a gas station. Let’s think about that flash of brilliance: the public is concerned about price and ease of access for gasoline. So who wants to go out and block-up a neighborhood gas station with a bunch of press and security…thus killing off customer traffic for the poor small-business operator of that store for an afternoon?
The party for the little guy?
The party for Everyman?
How self-serving.
How inconsiderate.
How typically hypocritical.

A survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization, in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs says 90 percent of Americans viewed the lack of energy independence as a risk to security, that 88 percent said problems abroad were endangering supplies and increasing prices, and that 85 percent believed that the federal government could do something if it tried.

Six months ago, the war in Iraq alone generated such levels of concern.

The Dems will try to make an explicit connection to some Republican Senator who they say could have done more but didn't. Their bet is that the message will resonate among voters. That’s a strategy that could backfire terribly when the Democrats’ resistance to the President’s energy bill is revealed.

Never mind the facts, just feed the emotion.

Into this politically-charged, polarized atmosphere gallops former Vice President Al Gore with a documentary about global warming seeking more aggressive steps to cut tailpipe emissions. Wonder if he’ll arrive in his emission-spewing heavily-armored SUV, surrounded by a phalanx of Harley-mounted patrolmen and fuel-fixated stretch limos? Watch what they do, not what they say.

The good news is that high gasoline prices are creating more of an incentive to conserve — which is what environmentalists have tried to achieve through proposals like higher taxes on energy. That is totally the wrong approach.

Where does the impact of high-priced gas hit hardest? In suburban and rural districts, where families are forced to drive greater distances for routine needs. How do those regions typically vote? Red State.

Who wants to pay even MORE for a commodity that is a necessity?
Do the math.

The fact is, both parties face real dangers over fuel cost issues this election cycle.
It’s going to be instrumental to look at the records of the various mouthpieces of both parties for guidance on how they’ve really acted in contrasting the message of the moment they’ll be espousing this Summer and Fall.

Meanwhile, energy companies should take note of the sentiment. Historically, business sectors who fail to conduct business responsibly in the past have incurred the micromanagement of congress.

Oil companies would do well to re-invest--in a very public way--a larger part of their profits into domestic R&D. Already there is a a bill that would take back tax credits from energy companies, and require a doubling of investments in ethanol and other renewable fuels.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Theatre of the Mind

Corey Sprouse, our assistant deputy producer, is back from his stay in the hospital…looking tanned and rested. I need to go to that hospital.

Corey was well taken care of with pretty nurses, good food, and apparently, lots of bottled water… which is why he tested positive for Evian flu.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Just another glimpse behind the scenes at The BizRadioNetwork. Some of you have asked for proof that Kristina Ramirez actually arrives at the station in a limo. But of course. Here’s proof!

Of course, I realize I just shattered your image of what we all look like, what we’re doing when we work.

That’s that “theatre of the mind” thing I frequently mention on the show. The “theatre” part is what a really love about Radio. Sure, the Internet and TV have all altered the way Radio is used for marketing. A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? Not necessarily.

What if you don’t want to be limited by a photo? What if you want to let your audience’s imagination be the painter of that mental image you’re trying to create with your message? The only way you can achieve that piece of magic with TV or Internet ads is by using a blank screen…which is a little self-defeating when you’re using visual media. Not so with Radio.

If, as you’re reading this, I were to tell you that I am writing this from high atop an uptown office building with a corner view of one of the busiest freeway systems in the country, what’s the image that pops into your head?

Glass and chrome contrasting with concrete slabs and steel-reinforced pillars, heat waves shimmering off the sun's glare on all that white, grooved pavement, right?

As I continued to describe my environment, your mind created your own personal image.

And your mind’s idea of that visual image could be very, very different from the person in the next cubicle you just told to click on this site and see what that guy on the Radio this morning is writing about on his blog. (You did do that, didn’t you?)

Notice how I just painted a picture of your work environment, even though I’ve never seen it?

That’s the beauty of Radio…and that’s why an investment in radio advertising is a far more valuable commodity than TV or internet by virtue of the fact that the limits of the message you convey are restricted only by your own creativity in expressing that image.

By the way, a while back I promised you a peek into some pretty amazing qualitative numbers about the audience we’ve amassed without the usual dog and pony show.

Watch this space tomorrow for those details. I’ll see you in the morning on the Radio.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's a Financial Zoo Out There

My in-studio guest this morning was my friend, Jordan Goodman, a smart guy who's one of the few financial media types that is the real McCoy, a straight shooter who tells it like it is. He is in Texas this week on a speakers' tour for a booking agency that schedules personalities like Jordan for events and programs.

Jordan's also got a new book out--another proof of his smarts, he's combining business trips for maximum mileage and exposure-- "Master Your Money Type," published by Warner Business Books.

One of the topics we discussed today (catch the podcast) was how to determine your financial personality. Just as success in relationships in life and love are determined by how personalities merge and mesh, so does your financial success hang on your personal psyche regarding lucre.

I wanted to share with you Jordan's Money Personality Test to determine your Money Type and find out how it impacts your financial future. Just answer Yes or No to the following questions. At the end of the quiz you’ll know your Money Type. More importantly, you'll have an important tool for applying the strengths of your Money Personality Type to leverage for greater wealth.

Pencils ready (please, no white out on your monitor screen...)

1. Do you tend to shop for brand name items?
2. Do you believe that people only respect someone whose image says, “I’ve made it!”?
3. Do you take as much pride in your possessions as you do in your achievements?
4. Do you ever fear you’ll lose someone’s love and respect if you are not financially successful? 5. Do you often have no idea what is in your checking account or how much debt you’re carrying on credit cards?
6. Are you embarrassed to talk about money?
7. Would you rather do almost anything than tackle and deal with money problems?
8. Do you lose track of whether or not you’ve paid your bills?
9. Do you have more than six credit cards –and do you tend to pay the minimum each month toward your overall debt?
10. Do you think budgets are annoying and for other people?
11. Have you ever borrowed money in order to pay off what you already owe?
12. Do you frequently receive overdue notices from lenders or pay extra charges for late payments on bills?
13. Do you believe that the only way to feel financially secure is to hang on to every penny?
14. Does worry about money ever stand in the way of you enjoying what you have?
15. Do you live with an unrealistic fear that financial disaster is looming just around the corner?
16. Would you rather pay for your house outright than have a mortgage?
17. Do you feel pride in how you’ve made and managed your money so far?
18. Do you think you have the resources to deal with financial setbacks?
19. Do you prefer to stick to the financial strategies that have worked for you in the past?
20. Are you fairly confident the money will be in place for college and retirement…but haven’t actually made a detailed plan as yet?
21. Do you believe that the only way to get what you want in life is by taking risks?
22. Do you thrive in unpredictable, uncertain situations?
23. Does taking a risk give you an emotional rush that you find exhilarating?
24. Do you like the challenge of competing with others and coming out on top?

Now here's the fun part: How'd you do, and what are you?

Questions 1-4:
If you said yes to two or more of questions 1-4,chances are you are a STRIVER

Questions 5-8:
If you answered yes to two or more of questions 5-8,chances are you are an OSTRICH

Questions 9-12:
If you answered yes to two or more of questions 9-12,chances are you are a DEBT DESPERADO

Questions 13-16:
If you answered yes to two or more of questions 13-16,chances are you are a SQUIRREL

Questions 17-20:
If you answered yes to two or more of questions 17-20,chances are you are a COASTER

Questions 20-24:
If you answered yes to two or more of questions 20-24,chances are you are a HIGH ROLLER

Now, let's get out there and make some money!
(Just don't spend it all in one place.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Yen for Cars

You know I am a car nut. This week I’ve been driving around the new Toyota Avalon Limited, which is not your grandpa’s Toyota. The next new automotive trend on the horizon is the arrival of Chinese-manufactured automobiles in the US.

One of the companies blazing that trail is Global Holdings International, Inc. which will carry a full line of Chinese-manufactured vehicles, inlcuding sedans, minis, sports coupes, SUVs, minivans, trucks, light trucks, buses, and heavy equipment. Global Holdings will compete with US automakers on various levels, including price point--most of its lineup will sticker-out at 30-50% less than comparable vehicles sold in the U.S.

Watch for nameplates carried by Global for vehicles from Brilliance, Foton Auto and Boading Tianma Auto. The Brilliance M1 sedan will begin a publicity tour of the United States starting in June.

The proof will be in the test drive…I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of a Chinese automobile, just to compare. I am told that within two-hours of driving one, you want to drive it again.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Tax Days and Mondays

Today is Tax Day for most of us…isn’t this the official birthdate of the National Association of Procrastinators, too? I kept meaning to join that…but never got around to it. Does that make me an automatic member?

It’s also Appreciate Your Postal Worker Day…for obvious reasons…

The 5th Special Session of the State Legislature convenes in Austin today to tackle school finance.
Isn’t there a rule somewhere that after three or for tries, there’s nothing special about a special session? Why don’t we just call it the 5th Session in a Row to Waste your Money and Pose for Cameras in an Election Year?

I finally found the ironic summary I was looking for in reviewing the events of last week…from The Economist, came this poignant observation:

"In France the nation's youth marched for the right to work half-heartedly and not be sacked. By contrast, hundreds of thousands of immigrants in more than 100 American cities marched for a chance to work hard and not be deported."

Despite all the belly-aching and griping each year at tax time, isn't it amazing people would rather live and work here than any other place in the world?

Pump This

Exxon's CEO, Lee Raymond, is retiring, and he’ll have a doozy of a severance package…worth nearly $400 million, when you factor in his pension, stock options and perks.

Perky Katie Couric is, well, flaccid, compared to Raymon’s $1 million consulting deal, 24-months of home security, plus personal security, a car and driver, and he’ll get to use that a corporate jet, the one with the tiger on its tail, for professional travel. Think anyone will be a tad bit jealous?

Remember in November, when Raymond was still chairman of Exxon, he told Congress that gas prices were high because of global supply and demand? He was answered by questions about his income, and put on the hot seat for his company’s profitability. Might that be a case of pump-envy?

Bet the eggheads on Capital Hill are practically apoplectic over Mr. Raymond's retirement deal and his paycheck last year. At $51-million, that works out to $141,000 a day, nearly $6,000 an hour. And it’s more than five times what the CEO of Chevron made. Did you get a twinge of green?

Stop right there, and think with your head, and not your gas pump nozzle.
Did you invest in Exxon last year?
Did you make money?
Are you invested in Exxon now?
Are you making money?

We have to separate between our pump-lust as fuel prices go higher and higher, and our quest for a good investment, as fuel prices go higher and higher.
You can’t have it both ways.
You can’t have a successful Exxon without a man like Lee Raymond running things…and he’s entitled to a boost for his services. If you want to penalize oil companies and the men who run them, then get ready for even more expensive fuel prices.

We’ve talked about this in the past—If you are looking for someone to demonize for high fuel prices, much of the blame should be placed at the front door of the Congress for prohibiting domestic oil companies from developing and producing domestic resources.

It’s a little ironic that California Senator Barbara Boxer chastised Lee Raymond for his earnings in 2004…yet she refuses to acknowledge that her and her colleagues' refusal to allow more development of domestic oil and gas deposits are one of the main reasons prices are high…and Raymond’s bonus was as large.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Toying with Toyota

The first time you sit behind the wheel of Toyota’s new third-generation Avalon, you may be forgiven for thinking this is a mighty fancy car for the Silver Fox generation. Lavish but tasteful, elegant and well mannered are all appropriate adjectives. But behind the genteel veneer of this car is a precisely engineered touring machine that is as much a joy to drive, as it is “pretty” to the eye.

This is not your father’s Toyota.

If you’ve always had an aversion to driving a vehicle that looked like it was assembled by fine furniture craftsmen—with wooden panels, and hide-away covers for rude and obnoxious things like switches and knobs...

If you like dials and gauges and switches and levers...if you want to feel like you're in a performance automobile, not a leather and oak boardroom somewhere... will be pleased that Toyota’s designers have found a happy coexistence with the craftsmen in creating a cabin that is quietly exotic in function, and can still get up and go when you feel the urge to prove this silver fox is “older and carries more insurance,” to quote a favorite line from “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

Besides, when you’re getting up at dark-thirty, you need to look forward to a ride that’s a little exciting, just to get the blood pumping at that hour.

Avalon still converts its 268-hp V-6 power plant through a 5-speed transmission to the front wheels, with a zero-to-60mph time lapse of 6.6-seconds.

The amazing thing about this automobile is that the smooth ride and dampening of vibration gives you a false feeling of speed, and 80-mph feels only like 60.


s that like 60 being the new 40 for boomers?

Fortunately, the Avalon design team wisely included a radar-enabled cruise control system to keep you from running up the tailpipe of the car ahead.

It will sense your rate of closure and back-off the fuel supply to the engine when it senses you’re too close.

I think the other button on the steering wheel is to squelch the yammering from the back seat drivers ("you're too close...slow down...are we there yet?" etc.)

You can still tell this is a front wheel drive automobile, but with 17-inch wheels and a firmer suspension, it’s not much of a distraction. That suspension cradles you on a 111-inch wheelbase that made this car too long to fit in my garage without some serious re-decorating…but it made for a very jolt-free trip to Central Texas and back.

Toyota has included the keyless entry system and ignition on the Avalon. A remote sensing fob will enable the car to illuminate the area with lamps on the underside of the side rear-view mirrors, and the interior glows from within to welcome you for your next driving adventure. And those deluxe mirrors also have the way-cool embedded LED turn signal indicators for enhanced visibility in traffic.

Stodgy, this is not.

Toyota used to be synonymous with inexpensive manufacturing and limited appeal for the quality car crowd. That perception has evaporated with the time-tested durability the cars have proven to possess. The all new Toyota Avalon brings to the forefront a great combination of form and function.

This is not your father’s Toyota…it’s not your grandfather’s Toyota. For the price and the amenities, it just might be the last luxury touring sedan you’d ever have to buy.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Local Flavor in Central Texas

If you want a job done right, you go where a man’s workmanship speaks for himself. When you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, you take a clue from what the locals do.

Over the Easter weekend my Bride and I traveled to Central Texas to join a gathering of the clan for the holiday.

It was a perfect excuse to take the new 2006 Toyota Avalon away from the concrete jungle, and see how it stretched out on a sinewy stretch of asphalt. Once we threaded our way past the traffic snarls of the city, the drive was excellent.

North of Brenham on HWY 36, however, we encountered a gravel truck heading south, and like the tail of a comet, it’s passing was marked by stones and pebbles sucked into the slip stream. We drove through what sounded like a meteor shower, and were peppered with projectiles moving in the opposite direction at an estimated 120-mph relative to us.

What shopping carts are to new cars, rock chips are to virgin windshields, and we picked up a one-inch startburst with the impact, smack dab in the middle of the glass, about two inches above the bottom.

The only way I could have felt worse would it to have been my own personal car. When we reached Belton, we searched out a place to eat, and a place to get the windshield fixed.

In Belton, you’re not eating right if you’re not eating at Crow’s Hamburgers, on Old Waco Road, just north of HWY 93. Two burgers and a shake and fries may not be on anyone’s best health diet, but in the midday sunshine, under a 100-year old cypress tree, there’s nothing better for the body and soul. The locals agree, judging by the crowd that was still waiting in line for food, long past the Noon hour.

Next stop was a place to get the glass fixed, and my father recommended a glass shop in nearby Temple where the owners do more than just fix glass.

Perfection is a way of life for Billie and Bobby Giniewicz at Action Auto Glass, at the corner of I-35 and Loop 336.

Anyone who can take a 1950’s-era rust bucket and transform it into works of art like these 1955 and 1957 masterpieces deserved more than my consideration for fixing a windshield.

The Giniewicz brothers and their friends meet at the shop on the weekends to resurrect the works of art Detroit rendered when tail fins were cool, convertibles were marks of manhood, and the sweetest sound in the world was generated by a massive V-8 under the hood, resonating through straight pipes out the back. The second-sweetest sound is what the crowd made when the hood was opened to reveal the handiwork within.

These are more than works of art, they’re labors of love. Time, sweat, and big bucks, where two years and $60,000 worth of parts can result in some best-of-show automobiles, and bona-fide traffic stoppers when they drive past.

When the owner of a classic automobile first begins to re-build his car, he is wise to have the irreplaceable curved glass removed and cleaned by an expert. That's the connection between Action Auto Glass, the Giniewicz brothers, and the Toyota Avalon we were driving. Perfection demands perfection.

Billie was busy with his buddies, coaxing the carcass of a ’57 coupe into shape when we drove up, but he took time out from his hobby to expertly repair the stone damage on our Avalon test vehicle. The shop wasn’t even open for business, but the neighbors say the Giniewicz brothers have this reputation for service. They lived up to it, and then some.

Like I said, when you want something done right, you go where the locals recommend for the best service and craftsmanship.

Billie had us ready to go in under 20-minutes…but we spent an hour and a half just admiring what he does when he’s not fixing glass.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Things Aren't What They Seem

Could the end of the era of cheap money be in its final death throes…taking the US economy with it down the tubes? That’s the premise of a piece in Thursday’s New York Times.

Is the world running out of oil, hurling the economy into a tail spin of mammoth proportions?

That’s the idea some would have you have, as the Middle East struggles to keep production levels consistent with evidence indicating we’ve passed the points of peak oil and peak gas.

Are we about to reach the threshold of pain with gasoline prices at the pump surpassing $3/gal, causing consumers to tighten up and stall the economy?

Interestingly, we’re still putting gasoline in our cars. I haven’t seen any long lines at gas stations—except those created by crass promotional stunts, which in reality create only headaches for the rest of the public.

Is Immigration Reform going to be the key to America’s economic survival?
Again, it depends upon who you ask, and where they live.

Let’s examine these hot-button issues in light of what’s really going on…

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was pushed to its highest point in nearly four years yesterday. Does this mean we’ll soon be paying more interest on credit cards and home mortgages?
Is that going to stop us from spending?
Perhaps not.

The change will have the biggest impact on those of you who took out home loans with low introductory interest rates, which are now adjusting to higher rates as the loans mature.

Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR Inc., thinks it lends more credence to the theory that things are going to wind down. Or they’re just going to take on a different appearance: Instead of buying a 5,000 square foot house, we’ll settle for a 4,000 sq. foot home.

Ah, but people are going to go belly-up, buying too much home. They're not going to be able to make their payments! It’s going to wreck the economy!!

Yes, delinquencies have gone up, but the truth is, they are still near historic lows. The Mortgage Bankers Association says, 4.7% of all home mortgages were delinquent in the 4th quarter of last year. That’s up from 4.44 % in the third quarter.

Are people bailing our of their houses, carrying their belongings out of their neighborhoods in pushcarts and bundled bedspreads?
I'm not seeing that.

Are you getting into restaurants more easily, since fewer people are dining out these days?
I didn’t think so.

We’re still eating out…we’re still buying gasoline—in fact, the cost of gasoline is less as a percentage of our income than it was during the gas crunches of the 70’s and 80’s. That might not make it any less palatable to be paying $3/gal—but the reality is we’re still able to run our cars on relatively cheap fuel.

We’re buying that fuel from overseas with money we can print up anytime we want. Think about this notion that I heard expressed earlier this week by Daniel Frishberg on his MoneyMan Report: Which do you think is going to run out first: The supply of Middle East oil, or the supply of paper money we can print?

The interesting angle is that when the Arabs do finally run out of easy petroleum, we’ll still have our un-tapped oil sources on this continent. Whether or not Congress will then let us drill for it may be a completely different discussion…but you see the point I’m making. We’re buying and burning someone else’s oil first…saving ours for later.

The Chinese get this concept, too. Why do you think they’re buying up all of Canada’s oil sands production out from under our noses? It’s comparatively easy to get to…and it’s not China’s.
Things are not what they seem.

This may be a bit of a leap, but there is a similarly-flawed logic afoot in the immigration reform discussion that’s been inflaming people from California to Congress. One of the arguments for stemming the tide of undocumented workers has been economic: Allegedly, more native-born unemployed workers would have jobs, were the illegal immigrants to up and leave the country.

Sounds plausible…until you consider a couple of undeniable facts: With US unemployment already at historic lows, below 5%, there aren’t too many out of work Americans who are employable.

Secondly—the skills that undocumented workers need to perform the jobs they have are way below the job skills common to American-born out-of-work laborers…who would not be likely to perform those jobs at the level of pay they would produce, according to The Center for American ProgressDr. David Jaeger.

Were those workers to leave, the economy might not implode, but it would be slowed…and in fact America might be better served by allowing even more immigrant workers into the country…legally.

Separate the emotion from the facts and you get a clearer picture of things…and a better perspective on how you can and should react. Things aren’t always as they seem.

Look beyond the headlines…look beyond your backyard fence.
Listen to what your neighbors are saying and thinking, not just what you’re told to think and say by the talking heads on TV.

The reality is that if things get tight, you’ve known about it ahead of time, and in plenty of time to plan and react. You can control your emotions…and your decisions…and you can control your destiny. Because things aren't always as they seem.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cleaning Up and Taking Names

What does it take to get a shirt or suit cleaned correctly? I am really at a loss. Despite my most careful instructions, I am still getting suit pants with double creases on the legs, shirts with buttons cracked in half, rumpled collars, and not paying cheaply, I might add.

This morning, dressing the half-light of the pre-dawn, I put on a shirt fresh from the dry cleaners, only to discover when I got to work, there was an ugly collection of black, blotchy stains on the front pocket—probably from something I left in the pocket. Okay--my bad, but now I'm doomed to walk around all day looking like I just went hunting with Dick Cheney.

Don't these dry cleaners have any kind of quality control any more? Does no one look at the garment before it’s bagged and tagged and delivered to me? There are a half dozen dry cleaners within two miles of my house…I’ve tried them all.

I will name names.

I lost a entire suit once when a Pilgrim franchisee used too much heat, and destroyed the lining. Another of the "independant" dry cleaners in my neighborhood caught fire a few years guessed it—some of my clothes were in there—and they refused my claim for replacing the garments. I'd be happy to tell you that was, but they've changed their names so many times (wonder why??) the point is moot.

Their attorney told me I could sue, but they’d just file bankruptcy. He almost sneered when he said it. Needless to say, the revenue that dry cleaners lost from me the rest of that year was worth three times what I was asking them to pay to replace the ruined garments. I've never again darkened their door.

There is a family-operated dry cleaners within walking distance of my house. Wonderful people--some brand of Asian extraction, but they're just delightful to be around. Shirts kept coming back with rumpled collars and broken buttons. At some point, even walking distance is inconvenient when you have to keep going back for re-dos. I moved on.

The gauntlet has been thrown down—show me a reasonably priced dry cleaners that guarantees its work, where I don’t have to become a house-hold name to get the service I expect (sometimes, a certain level of anonymity is a plus, especially when all your good clothes are in your arms to be cleaned and pressed.)

I will try them, and report to you the results.

I just hope the label on the inside of that gauntlet doesn’t say “dry cleaning required.”

King of Fools

Speaking of garments...could it be, the King has on no clothes?

The self-proclaimed King of All Media, that rascally Howard Stern, is scratching his scruffy head and wondering where all his listeners have gone, now that he’s gone from terrestrial to satellite radio.

According to CBS Radio, Stern’s national audience was estimated at 12-million…but metrics of his current listeners range between one-sixth and one-twelfth that number.

Whether you believe the veracity of Arbitron ratings or not, an apples-to-apples comparison of their surveys would tend to prove the theory that listener loyalty is valued at about $13/month--what it costs to subscribe to Sirius' service.

But what did you expect from a group that was catered by Stern, who verbally rebuked the un-converted to his Sirius satellite radio channel by asking, “You haven't come with me yet? How dare you?"

A survey by Jacobs Media indicates stations who once competed with Stern are ironically reaping the benefits of his absence. The Los Angeles Times noted the poll showed more than half of Stern's former audience has not stuck with the replacements, and instead are drifting toward similar, well-established morning programs in their local markets.

Then there’s always the possibility some folks are have just outgrown Howard Stern.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Our House Divided

So…what’s the outcome from the past several day’s marching by illegal immigrants seeking validation of their status in this country? It’s a sticky wicket, and anyone underestimating the economic and political fallout from this issue will be sorely disappointed.

Fact: The criminalization of undocumented foreigners is an oxymoron. If they’re here illegally, they’re already criminals. Enforce the law.

Fact: People seeking a better life are going to find their way to America. That’s been the appeal of this country for the past 230-years, and it’s not a franchise idea exclusively for Hispanics. Check out the demographics of The Galleria Mall in Houston or Dallas on any given weekend and watch who’s flashing plastic and cash: that’s not just a white bread shopping mall.

Those two points being stated, there’s also a right way and a wrong way to get into any country. You wanna be legit, do it legitimately.

How to get that done is the trick.
For most poor immigrants, hiring the legal assistance to gain legitimate citizenship is prohibitively expensive. The issue is a potential windfall for lawmakers because there are 11.5 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, according to an estimate by the Pew Hispanic Center. When you look at those numbers through the lens of potential voters, the issue takes on new meaning.

Although there are 40 million Hispanics in the United States, only 60% of eligible citizens are registered voters. Historically, turnout at the polls has been lower than among whites and blacks.

That could be changing in light of the events of the past several days. For once, Sen. Ted Kennedy and I agree: Kennedy over the weekend compared the marches in Washington D.C. to the Civil Rights marches of the 60’s in which Dr Martin Luther King Jr. called on the nation to let freedom ring.

America’s house is divided for now, but smart money is betting on a revision of current immigration law to reflect the realities of our time.

Is amnesty for undocumented workers fair?
Is non-enforcement of current law fair?
What is the price immigrants must pay for their citizenship here?

A starting place might be to eschew their ties to their home country as they pledge allegiance to their new one. That’s not to say cultural influences should be left at the border—far from it, because it is the confluence of cultures blending that has been an integral part of America’s greatness and strength.

But flying Mexican flags on school flag poles and threatening to boycott American businesses is no way to gain public sentiment for this cause. The more radical proponents of reform have called for “A Day Without Latinos” on May 1. I would go along with that--so long as each person participating behaves as the person they would like to be—American—and makes May 1 an even more productive, positive day.

The price for becoming American should be that you willingly take on the mantle of being American, while willingly shedding the robe of a foreign national—or in the case of Mexicans, the serape of citizenship from that country. You can’t have it both ways.

Calling for a day without Mexicans is delf-defeating.
In fact, hyphenating American citizenship with any former foreign affiliation reeks of hypocrisy. As a native-born American with English, Irish, and Germanic roots, I resent hearing about African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc, etc, etc, yada yada yada.

We are Americans, period.
Drop the hyphen, drop the pretense, and just be American.

Clearly, something is broken, and the only correct choice is to fix flawed legislation already in place that is failing to address immigrant flows, failing to provide border security, and failing to recognize the fact that a human tide will continuously seek America’s shores in search of a better life.

The irony is that as we correctly adapt and adjust our thinking and our rules, our lives will be enriched as we enrich the lives of those who seek to live among us as one of us.

By the way, Citizens—today is runoff election day in several key county races around the state. Why not exercise your citizenship and participate?

Monday, April 10, 2006

First Class Salute

Do you remember the TV commercial that featured a group of US soldiers returning home from Iraq? They're shown walking through an airport terminal in their desert camo uniforms…and one by one, travelers in the terminal begin a spontaneous round of applause as the men and women walk past. I don’t know if the ad won any awards, but I do remember it was a very moving, and fitting tribute, to our armed forces.

Seems like it was a commercial sponsored by a beer company, but they weren’t selling brewksies with that spot—they were selling patriotism and pride.

I’ve seen that outpouring of genuine public affection and pride replicated…and recently read a piece by Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News that has shed light on another, wonderful way to show your pride and support for soldiers returning from their foreign posts.

The next time you fly First Class, and you see a soldier in coach, offer him or her your seat. Most likely, the airline attendants will approve the switch. That’s the story Polaneczky told about a friend who’s a frequent flier…always upgrading to First Class seating.

They guy had run across a soldier returning home who was afraid to fly. After all he’d been through in Iraq, no less. The soldier was looking forward to an adult beverage to calm his nerves about the flight.

As he squeezed through the First Class seats towards the back of the plane, the soldier gave the guy a thumbs up…and that’s when the light bulb went off. He asked the flight attendant to find the soldier, and swapped seats with him on the spot.

Felt so good, giving up his seat, he’s been doing it everytime he flies…sometimes shaming other First Class fliers into doing the same thing.

I think it’s a wonderful gesture.
The challenge is now out there for all of you who fly First Class—no soldiers in Coach!

What a great way to be welcomed home.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Shortest Show on Earth

“…The most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it."
-Arnold J. Toynbee

Starting Monday, April 10, I will be hosting the very early, very short, very first morning show on the docket of the BizRadio Network, 6a-7a, Monday thru Friday.

That’s ludicrous, you might think.
You might.

I have recently read all manner of interesting commentary about our radio stations and their direction, performance, effectiveness, etc. on internet discussion boards (which shall remain nameless and link-less in this blog.) To those narrow minded, myopic commentators and Monday morning quarterbacks, I simply say you don’t get it. You don’t know the story, you don’t see the full picture; you just don’t get it.

Somewhere along the way we (myself included) got the idea that Radio was for the enjoyment of the masses, expression of the soul, and each Radio person on the air was The Annointed oracle for whatever aim or idea came into his or her head. And the public generally agg'ed-on that kind of thinking by elevating Radio hosts, DJ’s, personalities, news anchors, and even producers, to god-like status. We were all disillusioning ourselves. The King had no clothes, but he had a cool voice (pipes), played hip music, and set the trends of the day, so what did we care?

The reality of Radio always has been that Radio is a Business.
Oh sure, Nicolai Tesla’s experiments were interesting, and programming has always been designed to grab audiences…but the real deal for Radio has always been of a commercial nature. As a business, Radio has to meet or beat a bottom line, just like a bank, an automobile manufacturer, or a grocery chain.

What does that have to do with me hosting the shortest Radio show on earth?

You have to follow the economics.
You also have to recognize that Radio stations, and Radio Networks evolve as needs change. Right now there is a need for one of our Very Important Advertisers to make a bigger splash among our affiliate markets.

How many other broadcast networks do you know of with the flexibility to allow this to happen? How many other media outlets do you know of that are nimble enough to pull this off? And how many other commercial advertising organizations can boast the results The BizRadio Network has achieved?

We’re a year and two months old.
In that time we have amassed a niche audience that is the cream de la creme of demographers, out-performing indexes for income, education, home-ownership, luxury automobile ownership, net worth, and investable funds far above any other radio network’s wettest dreams.

I’ll tell you something else, even Arbitron is impressed with what we’ve achieved. In a recent survey they conducted using more precise information-gathering methodology than diary keeping, The BizRadioNetwork drew an average of over 23,000 listeners a week to a station that doesn’t give away the hottest concern tickets, not going to send anyone on a trip somewhere, and isn’t giving away money for listening.

No—our listeners tune in to find out the best way to make money, not win it.

It’s like that old adage—give a man a fish, you feed him for a day…etc.
The way we see it, radio stations giving away money buy an audience for a day. We’re showing you how to make money…and like showing a man how to fish so that he can feed himself for the rest of his life, we’re showing you how to make yourself rich for the rest of your life.

I’ll start that process tomorrow morning, for one hour, getting you set for the rest of the day. I promise to make it the best hour of your morning. See you on the Radio.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Life in the Fast Lane

You know you’re driving a pretty hot car when some sharp, athletic looking stud pulls up next to you at a light, looks over at you with a nod, and gives you the thumbs-up sign.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s driving the exact, same model automobile, in a different color.

That’s the new 2006 Lexus IS350, which I have been driving for the past few days, courtesy of the fine folks at Toyota, who picked moi to test the car and tell you about it. Where should I begin?

Do I start with the tale of head-snapping acceleration from the 3.5-litre V-6 engine thrusting 305-hp into a smooth-as-silk 6-speed sequential automatic transmission?

Should I begin with the ease of ingress and egress from the leather-clad cockpit, surrounded by air-bag pods, addressed by a dazzling instrument cluster, and outfitted with the coolest GPS navigation display?

Or perhaps I simply tell you the proof this new Lexus is a fit for you by the way it fits in your garage, around your hips, and in your hands as you grip the leather steering wheel.

I’ll save for you the personal experience of freeway ramps negotiated effortlessly by an electrically-powered rack-and-pinion steering system providing pin-point guidance to 18-inch aluminum wheels. You can create your own head rush with zero-to-60 in 5.6-seconds performance…and when the speed indicator glows red…well, that will be our little secret, won’t it?

Just so you won’t think I’m moonlighting as a brochure editor for Toyota, there are some things you might not like about the IS350. Even though there is trunk room extension access through the rear seat, you cannot haul a load of lumber from Home Depot. Skis to Crested Butte, yes.

The Clanton Women were not overcome by the limited legroom and lack of vanity mirrors in the rear seating area, either. But this is a luxury sport sedan. Dress and primp on your own time. (There are lighted vanity mirrors in both front windshield visors. Please apply make-up responsibly.)

The Clanton Women and Heir-apparent were all pleased with the dual climate controls in the front cockpit, including his and hers settings for the heated/ventilated seats.

You might also not like the fact that you must feed the beast with premium-test fuel. But as I remarked while recently driving a large, all-wheel-drive vehicle modeled conspicuously after a popular military mode of transportation, if you have to worry about filling the tank, you’re probably not in the target market for this vehicle in the first place.

Repeating—a luxury sport sedan: The Lexus IS350 combines four-door utility with drop-dead sex-appeal on four very fast spinning wheels.

There were two litmus tests for me: did I dream about it at night, and did my brother-in-law covet it? Yes on both counts. Well, least for one in-law, who drives a European product in this competitive class.

The other brother-in-law was at least impressed enough to ask, when noticing the rear-view camera display, “what does a car like this need a thing like THAT for?”

Again, for those of you who were distracted during the test drive: Luxury sport sedan.

White Fang is jealous, for the record.
But he’ll get over it.