New Economy, new models.

November 12, 2008 - 3 Responses

tighten-your-belt

I don’t envy the managers who are forced to make hard ugly choices in these turbulent fiscal times.  Basic understanding of the budgeting process tells you that if revenue is down 30%, then one of the biggest line items in the budget, talent will also have to cut it’s expenses 30%.
Do the math.  If you have a staff of 5 jocks, an off air PD, off air music director and a offering of ancillary help something is going to have to go.  30% of 5 jocks equal 1.5 persons.  30% of 3 jocks equals the elimination of 1 person.  And so it goes.
It is very hard to find a station these days that has the full compliment of promo, imaging, production and programming aids like the staffs of just five years ago.  That supplemental help is all but gone.  That leaves off air PDs, off air MDs and what’s left of a station’s talent pool to fend for themselves as management strives to find a balance between manpower and a sustainable budget.
Unfortunately the revenue stream just isn’t there so neither is the money to pay for everything and everybody.  So waves of cuts emerge.  Some argue that cutting talent is like dumping excess fuel from the tank so the engine gets better gas mileage.  Yes, it is true that the fewer the talent, the more of a work load, the less robust the content offering.  Blah blah blah…. All true but it simply doesn’t matter.  The old model is almost gone, gone, gone.  The future is muddled and bewildering.
Out of the ashes of what used to be we will have to craft the new model of what can be and what will be.  Here’s a few suggestions to think about as you try to stay on this ever shifting train that’s having a hard time staying on the tracks.
• Embrace the fewer employee model and find ways to make it as robust as possible.
• Think of the radio station as more of a clubhouse where a few good friends get together and create good fun content throughout the day.
• Expect your workday to be 12 hour a day every day.  Embrace it, find work you enjoy and simply do more of it no matter what HR says about the amount of hours you’re allowed per week.
• Find more than one thing you can do.  Combos include PD and on air work, web development and on air work, MD and imaging, etc, etc.  (Yes, I know that this is a reality for many already)  In other words think of your place at the station as a multimedia art project where you’ll work in paint, pencil, collage, etc etc.  You’ll have to master as many of those mediums as possible to create the final piece of art.
• Use this seemingly crazy streamlined business model as an excuse to formulate a new sound for your station(s) that is interesting and sustainable day after day.
• Use automation as an opportunity to craft more robust listening experiences instead of less stimulating occurrences.
• Learn to use interns to gather self-syndicated content to be recycled in other day parts and other days.  If it was good the first time it deserves more than one airing.
• Don’t lament too much about the past and what was.  This challenging market may be just the kick in the pants your brain needs to generate something new any interesting.
Yes, I really believe that all this stuff is attainable and totally doable once you’re ready to do something new and exciting.  It is what it is.  You might as well embrace it!

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar spacecraft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior.
In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the Moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”


John F. Kennedy made that speech in 1961.  By the Summer of ’69 we were walking the moon.  Hell, our current challenge will be barely perceived as a footnote comparatively.  Damn the financial torpedoes… Full speed ahead!

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Squirt guns, party hats and B-ball hoops for everybody!

September 27, 2008 - Leave a Response

This is common sense management 101 stuff but it bares repeating.  I just got of the road and saw first hand what stress does to a programming staff.

In these days of bad financial news and strained working budgets we have a tendency to forget that the talent on our stations can be fragile.  After all this radio resident spends all its time working on its craft and not so much worrying about the bottom line.  These are employees that you don’t share the station’s spreadsheets with, so don’t share the burden either.
As management you are the great insulator between the rigors of a challenged business climate and your programming staff’s want of creativity and playful atmosphere.  Talent has never responded well to pressure.  These are not honed athletes who are taught from an early age to respond to the constant state of worry and urgency in the big game.  At their best these are temperamental artists and creative thinkers who flourish with encouragement and realistic goals.
It’s fine that your staff know that business is challenged and decreased revenue means less operating budget for the quarter or the year.  It’s OK if some sad decisions have to made that include staff reduction or less or no operating capitol.  The most important thing to do is to motivate your staff to face the challenge and encourage them (with a smile on your face) to do their best work.  To have as much fun as they can doing it and to urge them to find new ways to make what you have more robust.
What you don’t want is for your staff is to feel threatened or stressed.  These two dynamics create internal stress and paralysis.  Paralysis creates despair and blocked minds.  Blocked minds causes paralysis.  And so it goes, your staff gets into a cycle of hopelessness and anguish that they’ll have trouble getting out of.  I’ve seen this stuff destroy stations from the inside out.
Don’t let it happen to you when it can so easily be avoided by being the great insulator.  The Pres, VP, GM, PDs this is your charge.

glass insulators used by your electric company

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What is Job One?

September 12, 2008 - Leave a Response

This is an excerpt from an e-mail I got today.  I’ve paraphrased a bit and omitted the writers name because they don’t deserve that rash of crap I feel like spewing.

Demery,

You’re always talking about making every break mean something and how you are disappointed by a lot of the stuff you hear.  Well you know what?  It’s hard making everything interesting four hours a day five days a week.  Sometimes I am so tired from programming the station that doing the air shift isn’t and can’t be my number one priority.  It’s tough out there.  Not every break can be stellar or amazing.

This e-mail came from someone I think is a generally a good program director, a friend and if my mind serves me right a more than proficient air talent.  My response…

 

BULLSHIT.

Every break matters.  Every one.  From simple sets to full blown bits.  From segues to firing off sweepers and punctuators cleanly and artistically into and out of songs.  I’m sorry that the rigors of being the PD and a jock are wearing you out.   I get it… I’ve done it.  The future programming model will most likely be a multiple aptitude application.  My next radio gig will probably be like yours… But I don’t care because the best programming skills are wasted if the end product (the on air application) is wasted on sloppy segues, poorly thought out sets, lackluster content, no content, mistakes that aren’t interesting or a general benign on-air existence.

Job one is to entertain.  Job two is to program.  Job three is to create a station community where programming, sales and upper management are engaged and focused on success.

Again (one more time) I get it.  The fact is you are probably judged more by your manager on your programming prowess than your on air work.  Unfortunately, in the end your listener determines by hearing the end result what they will give their allegiance and time to.   Listeners don’t care about budgets, sales meetings, talent coaching, promo meetings, music scheduling, AMT’s, perceptuals, etc.  All listeners care about is if you are entertaining… or not. 

If you are not built to put in 12 ½ hour days five days a week and a few hours on some  Saturdays to boot, appearances and a daily air shift, then the PD/DJ model doesn’t work for you.  Well it doesn’t.  There were times it didn’t work for me.  See your manager for details.

By the way a lot of the lackluster talent I hear are just talent and have few if any ancillary station jobs. If their work is lackluster, what’s the excuse there?

Note:  I’m not sure if I’m experiencing a sugar low or a lack of sleep but I’m a little salty at present.  By the way, I really do believe all this stuff that I discharge from the little grey mass in my skull.

Be well.  Be a leader. Work hard. Be entertaining.  Be somebody.

sd

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Music files without engagement.

August 15, 2008 - 2 Responses

Radio stations are not iPods with broadcast antennas.  Radio stations are gathering places, community builders and most importantly a way for individual users to feel like they’re a part of a collective with a common background.  The music you play is the soundtrack to your movement.  The opinions, attitude and causes you tender support the soundtrack and a way of life.  Even one who thinks of themselves as an individual craves knowing that they are part of something that illustrates their values and standards or at least their aspirations.

Here’s the point:

In this age of aggressive cost cutting I’m hearing more and more stations that sound like music files and sweepers.  This is fine if you’re just trying to keep the station on the air rather than simply going dark but it’s no way to grow a business.

For your audio presentation do not underestimate the human element.   Real human beings who have stories, opinions and points of view and the ability to present the station’s soundtrack with meaning are EVERYTHING in building a sustainable, growing profitable community.

Besides your listeners needing someone to distill the mountain of music out there to a digestible earful, your user needs engaging human beings.  Humans who can communicate, create impressions and pictures… and of paramount importance, the ability to add to the users experience. 

Now the rub…

Many of the announcers on the air have little to say about anything substantial.  Station slogans, contests and the dissemination of station business do not make for an engaging listening experience.  Without engagement and a focused station culture you limit your ability to create listener advocates and even worse you create few stories and causes for you sales staffs to enlighten their clients!

—CLIENTS!—

Part of your job as a programmer / talent is to create a station that account executives can easily tell others about.  Sales is about engagement, stories, and ultimately results.  Giving your sales staff something to talk about besides the ratings and cost per point makes the difference between stations that makes budget, doesn’t make budget and one that exceeds expectations.

Ask yourself these questions:

1)   Is your talent adding to the experience or just taking up space?

2)   Does your station have a real community view or is it just a mishmash of stuff?

3)   What does your station stand for?

4)   What have you done in any capacity that has made a difference?

5)   Have you done anything that would create talk or has become memorable?

6)   Have you done something or do you do something that makes a great story?

7)   Do you have any stories that a sales person can’t wait to tell a client?

Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff.  But this is what we do.  This is how we thrive.  And, notably this is how we make or can make a difference in this business and beyond.

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This isn’t old school… this is just lazy!

August 1, 2008 - Leave a Response

Lately there’s been much written about gravitating, utilizing and understanding new media and how it affects us in listener psychology, migratory patterns.

Now I totally understand the importance of taking hold of new opportunities and maximizing our users experience.  I say user because listener is a small myopic view of what we do.  What we do is create communities that are served by our substantial loudspeaker and direct reference and interactive sites.  In other words we tell people stuff and then media point them to our site for even more info or gratification.  Now, we could sit here for hours talking about what our website should look like, what it should offer and how to augment our on air offerings… but that’s not the point of this, errrrrr…rant.

Here’s the point.  Like you I spend a fair amount of time noodling on the web, gathering information, surfing for the Hell of it, creating art in Photoshop / Illustrator, propagating this site, etc, etc.  Yes, sometimes I listen to on-line radio for a background buzz and sometimes I use Pandora or Finetune for my auditory gratification and sometimes I want nothing in the background as I try to concentrate on what I’m doing.

Now the real point.

As we try to engage users to our total media offerings of sound, print, video, podcasting, etc. let’s try not to forget one thing… sometimes I simply want to be entertained!  I don’t want to be any more engaged than the one to one conversation offering that’s coming my way from the closest available speaker or headphone.  There are simply times, especially while driving where I want your offering to keep me busy, occupied and happy until I reach my destination.  Sometimes I don’t care about the seven cameras you have on in the studio, or the podcast interview with so and so, disc jockey bios, that whitty video your morning show made or pictures of you with Jack White.

I don’t have to be participating in your experience at all times!  You’ve got the show… give me a show!  Hey, just because I have a video camera and iMovie doesn’t mean that I have to be making a movie for TV.  Sometimes I just want to munch on popcorn and watch CSI in the comfort of my own underwear.  How about you?  Just because you have Adobe Audition or Garageband on your computer doesn’t mean you have to make music for the radio or whatever.  Hey, sometimes I don’t want to share, social network or blog… I enjoy the many times just being a listening schlump!

So for those times…

Keep me entertained.  Keep me wondering what will happen next.  Keep me amused.  Talk to me like we’re having a beer together and there’s that thing you wanted to tell me.  Paint pictures that I can see in my mind’s eye.  Inform me and make the information item something I’ll put in my cache and pass on to others so they will think I’m smart.  Give me a real reason to tell others about your audio culture offering. Free tickets to see blah, blah, blah won’t cut it… they’re nice but I’m not telling my friends about that… really I’m not. 

OK you get the idea.  This is the same stuff you’ve had rattling around your head as well.  I’m just writing it down for easy, pithy, digestion.  But here’s the thing… another Thursday on your station where you play music, tell me the titles of songs, tell give away those prizes advise me of station business and fill the template of the features/ benchmark probably won’t get you / us to that place where we’re engaging enough to be really entertaining. 

Seamingly breaking the rules, taking a sharp turn, sharing a real moment, giving a little of your true self, conveying your opinion and leaving an impression are your best chance of getting total engagement from the audiences we want… no matter the medium. 

OK I’m done now.  I’m gonna grab a cold drink, climb in the hot tub with the sound of WRXP on-line in the background. I doubt I’ll be using a keyboard…ok maybe later…or maybe not.

sd

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Magic… big hat and cape not required.

July 24, 2008 - Leave a Response

A lot of music radio sounds like a bunch of boilerplates and templates that are filled in, day in and day out.  Templates and structure don’t really allow for what captivates people.  MAGIC.

Magic moments are not time scheduled, bench marked, featured, daily occurrences or scheduled in Selector.  They are created by off center, imaginative, inspired artistic individuals.  But they only happen when the talent is given a venue to work in freely. That venue is closed if the station is highly dependent on music scheduling software and clock structures that only allow (for instance) 4 specific talk sets per hour. Structure is not a good station.  Good stations use structure as a base to build upon.

Structure and programming constraints are killing our medium, especially those offerings that could benefit from entertainers who are actually able to entertain.  It’s impossible to offer something of viral value if your talent is unable to create those moments. Features and benchmarks pale in comparison to a magic moment created by a wide-eyed inventive air talent.   What it really comes down to is a question of talent and management.

A good manager finds good people who can entertain and then gives them the venue to express themselves.  A good manager then manages those experiences and the talent so the station and talent can thrive.   Creating templates and scheduled talk breaks subdues the talent.  Management of this style of radio is fashioned to keep the station in check.  “Hey, what can go wrong if my talent doesn’t have the opportunity to make a mistake?”   What usually happens is nothing… day after day, week after week, etc etc.

If you want listeners to remember what you do, who you are and what you stand for you’ll have to permit talent the opportunity to put something out there.   Yes, this does increase the chances for failure.  It also increases the chances of success.  You can’t hit a home run if you only bunt!

Success is good.  Let’s go with that!

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Be a tool… the right tool.

July 19, 2008 - One Response

Recent reports show that Pandora has streamed 3.3 million songs to iPhone users since the launch of its new mobile application.  That’s a lot of peeps in a short span of time. Since the new iPhone came out Pandora has registered 180K new users and around 200K new stations have been created on the iPhone alone!  Hey again, that’s a lot of peeps.  These figures coupled with the continuing robust sales of iPods and their kind means there are a lot of people out there who just by the variety of technology choices aren’t listening to the radio as much… or at all.

Daunting, yes indeed.  But I am perplexed but the multiplicity of radio stations that are trying to emulate facets of the iPod hardware and Pandora (music genome) models. 

How about these radio offerings:

All request lunch

You Choose Weekends

Radio Impulse

Station WXYZ on shuffle

Stop it…  You’re only a cheap façade of what’s going on in the narrowcast pull technology world.  You are a broadcaster, a purveyor of push technology.  You can’t narrow cast.  Well, you could if you bought one transmitter and tower and got a frequency position for every one person who Cumes your station.  That’s ridiculous. You’d have a field of transmitter towers that would run for miles.   That’s perfectly good land that could be used for a shopping mall or golf course.  (Oh, I just kill me… and only me)

Again, you’re a broadcaster!  Slow, clumsy on-air social network programs pale in comparison to one of a 1000 on-line social networks.  All request shows may at best make you temporarily more diverse (if you let it) but in the end each request played (real or fake) only momentarily satiates that one listener until the next selection doesn’t.

Stop it Stop It Stop it!  Again, you are a broadcaster.  You can’t narrow cast to each individual in the cume.  Stop trying to be a tool that you’re not! 

You don’t bang nails with a screwdriver, you don’t sweep floors with a dump truck and don’t snorkel with a vacuum cleaner strapped to your back.

As a broadcaster what you do do, can do, should do and must do is entertain.  You can’t play the exact right song that one person needs but you can present the music you’ve chosen with meaning, stories, feelings, shared emotions and purpose.

Examples of the top of my head:

“I picked out this track from Coldplay right now because I was in the car with my wife last night and this song came on WXYZ and she started singing along.  As she sang the words I fell in love with her all over again”

Somebody help me!  So I’m in the shower and I started singing, ”I can ride my bike with no handle bar, no handle bars…”that was three days ago and I can’t stop.  Oh God here it is again on WXYZ.

“Is it just me?  When I play I Will Posses Your Heart by Death Cab for Cuite… images of Silence of the Lambs and Texas Chain Saw Massacre engulf my cranium.  That’s not just me… right?”

 “I downloaded it from iTunes and now all twelve tracks are the soundtrack to anything I’m doing…”

“Trent Reznor seems incessantly mad and sad no matter what he’s singing…”

“If you buy the Silversun Pickups CD or download the tracks and you don’t think it’s the best album of songs ever recorded by human beings with opposable thumbs… I will eat this radio station.”

I could come up with 10,000 more but you get the idea.  Yeah, that’s right… sharing ideas, visions, feelings, moments of elation, distraction or the painted veil of sadness, etc., etc…

These are the things that the broadcaster can do that Pandora or your iPod cannot.  Music delivered with meaning is so powerful that it can take over the mind.  If we’re talking the battle for mind share then I can’t think of anything more important than finding entertainers who can engage a listener.  As they used to say, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”  That’s true now more than ever.

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I’ll believe it…when pigs fly!

July 16, 2008 - Leave a Response

1) That’ll be the day when I hear a better tease than “… coming up next Coldplay!”  

It's a bird, It's a plane... it's soaring pork roast!

It's a bird, It's a plane... it's soaring pork roast!

 

Oh please don’t tease me like that.  You know I get so emotional when you leave me with something so tempting as what band is coming up next.  Coldplay changes everything!  …Right?

2) When someone doesn’t waste my time with the enticement of 40 minutes of non-stop (whatever).  

Oh boy 40 minutes non-stop?  a) Forty minutes of what? Will I like it? b) I once went 7 1/2 hours of non-stop on my iPod before the battery gave out… so I’m not impressed.

3) When I can find an HD radio in a rent a car.

I’m watching the WiMAX network being propagated around my city as I speak.  I figure by next year I’ll be driving around Salt Lake City listening to X-FM in London like it’s local!  By the way the bit rate is better than 96 kbps.

4) When I find an Alternative music station that plays more than 28% new music.

I guess we now know what Alternative means.  It means the Alternative to new music.  Nice job.

5) When I hear more than 3 out of the 100 or so Alternative stations that don’t sound like KROQ.

Yea, good one emulating something that sounded interesting like errr… 10 years ago.  OK, now I’m really starting to get salty.

6) When I meet a programmer who wants to go for long yardage instead of a running play for 2 yards.

I talk to a lot of people who are so afraid of failure that they leave no room for the attempt at success.  I’m getting a little red in the face now.  This isn’t a job it’s a crusade! 

7) When I hear an Alternative station that’s hummable, NOW and melodic.

Oh man, don’t get me started!!!!  Yes, I can hum with Nirvana but I long since found myself wanting to.

8) That I hear an announcer give me a compelling reason why the new song they’re about to play is a must listen.

The DJ has three main jobs.  1) Make the bridge between content and spots seamless. 2) Entertain.  3) Give a reason and passion to the content they provide.  Too many times I hear blah blah blah with no concern for the DJs main charge.

9) When I hear a station that doesn’t play Even Flow, Smells Like Teen Spirit and What I Got, every 18 hours.

I am totally baffled how grunge songs from the early 90s have anything to do with Death Cab, Raconteurs or Spoon.  If Top 40, Urban or Rhythmic conducted themselves this way, they’d find themselves planted in the mid pack ratings with most of the Alternative station’s out there.

And finally…

10) When I hear an Alternative station that sounds alluringly dangerous!  

Just about everything out there sounds like the audio equivalent of a child running up and down the isles of Walmart holding children’s safety scissors!  Somebody out there do the right wrong thing, the a little scary thing or the thing that James Bond would do at the beginning sequence or the climax of the 007 movie.  

It’s now a race between radio and pigs with wings.  I pick the pig to evolve before we do.

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Focus with extreme prejudice.

July 2, 2008 - Leave a Response

Take the focus test.  It’s pretty simple.  Find the one item that doesn’t fit in the category with the other two.It smells like Matchbox 20, Lifehouse and Sheryl Crow

Rush Limbaugh program                  

1) The liberals are out of their minds.

2) Democrats are bunch of hypocrites.

3) Obama has a pretty good idea for pulling out troops from Iraq.

 

KROQ Los Angeles

1) Tickets for Radiohead in concert.

2) Nine Inch Nails free download info.

3) A gushing interview with Carrie Underwood.

 

WRXP NYC

1) Clash – Train in Vain

2) Radiohead – House of Cards

3) Matchbox 2- – Long Day

 

Air America

1) America’s addiction to coal and oil must stop.

2) The Right Wing doesn’t know what to do about Obama.

3) George W is only our 5th worst president ever.

OK, I won’t even bother to score you.  The answers were always the third item that didn’t belong in the category heading.  Do you get the point?  When a listener comes to you they come for who you are and what they expect from you.  When you deviate from that your giving them ambiguity. Ambiguity is a vagueness they don’t want from you.  For pro Obama blah, blah you go to Air America and not Rush Limbaugh.  When you’re into NIN and Radiohead an interview with Carrie Underwood is insulting.  And what the Hell is Matchbox 20 doing on my cool progressive album track station?  Isn’t Matchbox 20 soccer mom stuff?  Maybe a mlf but still!

Who you are is very important to the listener.  Confusing the listener of who you are and what you stand for makes you an uncertainty of choice and possibly uncomfortable if the listener considers you a badge or fashion accessory.  As an example consider WRXP.  I have been very pro RXP even before one of my friends got the PD gig.  (See Why WRXP NYC Matters…)

WRXP is heavily researched.  Most everything on the station is accountable.  So in a library that features cool tracks by the Stones, Radiohead, Wilco, REM, The Pixies, Arcade Fire, Kooks, Death Cab, Zeppelin, Beck and Beatles why would play tracks from Matchbox 20, Lifehouse and Sheryl Crow?  Even if research claims these artists are compatible, are these tracks so important that you couldn’t yank them with extreme prejudice?  “The needs of the many in the library outweigh the plays of the few turds in the punchbowl.”

I’m just saying focus with extreme prejudice.  I’m just saying…

sd

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Why WRXP NYC is important to all radio everywhere.

July 2, 2008 - 4 Responses

If you didn’t know, earlier this year Emmis transformed a perennial Smooth Jazz station in NYC to a AAA Hybrid called WRXP http://www.1019rxp.com

Here’s a 30 minutes snapshot of New York centric rock music from WRXP.

Midnight Oil – Beds Are BurningThe Rock Experience

Death Cab For Cutie – I will Possess Your Heart

Gin Blossoms – Hey Jealousy

Led Zeppelin – Gallows Pole

Clash – Clampdown

Bruce Springsteen – Livin’ in The Future

Though it’s still early in the rollout, WRXP (the Rock Experience) is creating its own destiny that will be ultimately responsible for any new idea/new growth movement for the industry at large.  Radio, like many industries rarely moves forward unless someone else has successfully done so as well.

I wish Leslie, Jimmy, Mike and Dan lots of much deserved luck.  At present WRXP sits at a much lower 12+ position than its predecessor on the frequency, but that is too be expected as with the change in formats Smooth Jazz lovers scatter like roaches with the lights on and new listeners are yet to be beckoned with some real marketing.  Like I said earlier, it’s still very early.

Amongst the tried and true offerings, radio needs some percentage of innovation on the dial.  Newer glitzier technologies have painted radio as an old medium and with the help of the NAB’s most recent radio add campaigns radio seems even more wrinkled than ever.  (nice job)

A percentage of innovation on the radio dial shows movement and growth on this very mature medium.  This is good considering that as old as our delivery medium is it’s still ubiquitous and a great listen. There’s no reason why it needs to dress up like your grandpa.

sd

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