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Swimming In Digital Waters

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In most buildings, talent are conditioned to think about the here and now. They’re consumed with creating content, watching and reading about sports and other topical events, and forming emotional connections with their listening audience. Few are spending their time studying industry trends and changes or creating Plan B strategies to assure their brand remains relevant across multiple media platforms in the event of a catastrophic shift in audio consumption.

The same can be said of many programmers, sales managers, and account executives. Today’s tasks are what matter most and winning the next month or quarter helps determine if the boss remains satisfied and a future raise awaits.

But while we’re all caught up in our day to day responsibilities, it’s too important to stay informed on the way our business is changing. You may think that radio is bulletproof but one piercing of the skin could require much more than a band aid. I’m not talking about a competitor’s decision to adjust their lineup or the station’s largest client switching its ad agency and reevaluating how much business they want to do with your brand. I’m talking about change that can affect every single person and brand and the way our entire industry thinks and operates.

Now before you sound the alarm and start emailing copies of your resume to the real world, relax. Radio isn’t going anywhere tomorrow nor the day after. But if we’re not smart and strategic in the future, we could be in deep trouble because technology is moving at the speed of sound and it’s not going to wait around for anyone.

If you weren’t aware, last week the country of Norway announced that it was eliminating FM radio. The Norwegian government said the country’s high mountains and scattered population make it expensive to operate the Norwegian FM networks compared with other countries, and a growing confidence in digital audio was behind their reason to change course.

As a result of the change, the government estimates that radio stations will save 23.5 million dollars per year. They also feel that broadcasters will have access to more channels and better audio quality by operating in the digital space.

“Radio digitization will open the door to a far greater range of radio channels, benefiting listeners across the country,” former Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey said in a statement in 2015. “Listeners will have access to more diverse and pluralistic radio content, and enjoy better sound quality and new functionality.”

Although Norway is the first to execute this strategy, other countries such as Denmark and the United Kingdom are said to be considering following suit. Switzerland has also pledged to shut down FM broadcasting by 2020.

There will certainly be some bumps in the road when making such a drastic change, but the digital audio space is seen as an open road full of possibilities. The surplus of content is enormous, listening and downloading of programming is available on each individual’s time, and broadcasters are treated to more reliable measurement. It also happens to be where the majority of advertising dollars are moving.

When Napster and other file sharing software became available in the 1990’s, the record industry didn’t take the threat seriously. That lack of concern resulted in the music industry experiencing years of agony and a whole lot of financial pain. Fast forward to today and the majority of music is downloaded and purchased online, and companies like Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and Apple have become very lucrative.

Here’s something to ponder that you may not have ever considered before, what would your brand identity be if your product was removed from the AM and/or FM dial? Many stations tie the name of their brand to their dial position and the frequency they broadcast on, but if those two things were eliminated tomorrow, how would you be identified?

The answer is many of you would be pushing the panic button because your entire brand history would be permanently altered.

Why does that matter? Because technology is changing the game. Many of us may accept the status quo with the dashboards inside of our vehicles, but the auto industry believes it can make the experience inside of your car better and more attractive. In doing so, they believe it will result in more sales and higher customer satisfaction.

If you didn’t notice, two of the hottest selling products on the market this holiday season were Alexa by Amazon and Google Home. Each have been a big hit with consumers and the auto industry has taken notice.

Case in point, Ford has formed a partnership with Amazon to make Alexa available inside of its cars, and voice activation is an attractive feature to automakers. Once the inside of your vehicle begins to offer this service, and the dashboard is no longer controlled by an FM and AM tuner, the only way you’ll stand out is through audience recall.

In order to do that, you must create a powerful brand. There are hundreds of thousands of digital audio options to enjoy, but if the consumer can’t remember you or isn’t familiar with what you offer, then you’re as useful as a white crayon.

Are these products good for radio’s future? I believe they can be. Except radio may have to rethink and expand its content and distribution strategy and pursue other areas of the entertainment business. iHeart and Townsquare have already done this by becoming event creators and marketers, and Hubbard and E.W Scripps have too through significant investments in podcasting.

In recent years, many in the industry have been skeptical of the growth potential of digital audio. Inventory counts are drastically lower, and consumers have been unwilling to foot the bill to enjoy consuming content, which means it’s financially unattractive when compared to radio’s current business model. But, if it’s where the audience is shifting, and distributors begin to introduce newer technology at the expense of the previous models which had been reliable and successful for previous decades, then the industry has two choices – adapt or risk permanent damage.

Our industry has done a great job building and sustaining its local awareness, community connection, and visibility. That approach has enabled stations to build bonds with the audience, making it easier for them to be remembered. Those type of relationships help a brand remain important to a consumer who has access to voice recognition software or a digital dashboard.

It’s true that innovation is happening lighting quick and what seems groundbreaking today could be old news tomorrow, but one thing we can’t take for granted is radio’s position in the car through FM and AM distribution. All it takes is one monumental change in the way audio is distributed, and the business as we know it would not exist.

I can’t see the United States of America abandoning FM and AM radio the way other countries have, but to think that in the next ten years there won’t be massive changes and a heavier focus on digital distribution is simply naive.

Throughout my career I’ve tried to prepare myself for the “what if” scenarios. What if my best talent retired tomorrow? What if my legendary play by play announcer had to step aside as the voice of the local team which my brand held the rights for? What if a new social media platform launched and the audience shifted away from Facebook and Twitter? What if the identity of my brand was changed?

Fortunately, I was able to avoid these situations, but I’m a believer that when chaos ensues, it’s the ones who are prepared beforehand who navigate the rough roads best.

I’ll share one small example with you about preparing for change.

When we were building what is now known to sports radio folks as 101 ESPN in St. Louis, we launched with the rights to the St. Louis Rams, St. Louis Billikens, and a partnership with ESPN. The ESPN relationship in particular provided us with an opportunity to align our on-air and online branding.

During our first two years, we gained strong traction in the marketplace using the name 101 ESPN and 101ESPN.com. But as many great brands and leaders do when they’re having success, we held open dialogue about some of the potential dangers that could face us down the road.

We heard whispers about the Rams potentially relocating. We realized there was a chance that a key personality or two could elect to leave in the future to pursue a different opportunity when their contracts expired. And there was this one longshot possibility that we didn’t give much thought to but could never be discounted, what if we lost ESPN?

We had zero control over the Rams future, confidence in ourselves to retain valuable people inside the organization, and a great relationship with ESPN, but we were also not privy to their future plans or opportunities in St. Louis. Although the likelihood of the relationship changing seemed farfetched, in the world of business, you can’t rule anything out.

As we analyzed our future, we determined that it’d be a wise move to change the website branding of the radio station and align it with something we had future control over – the 101 FM frequency. We continued to position the on-air brand as 101 ESPN, while getting the audience more familiar with the new name of our website 101Sports.com.

In taking that approach, we were able to keep the station on track and built around a powerful brand like ESPN, yet prepare ourselves for the future by positioning the website with a name that would become a logical and easy transition should the on-air identity be compromised. Having pounded that branding into the audience’s mind for the past five years, the station is now in good shape should it ever need to adjust.

You may work for a station which is identified by its call letters, dial position, or affiliation with a sports radio network. There is a reason why hundreds of stations following this strategy, it works under the current set of broadcasting conditions. But if tomorrow those conditions were to take an unexpected turn, how would you be defined? What would you do?

I’m not suggesting that you should freak out over Norway eliminating FM radio or other countries considering the same possibilities. I realize that we operate in a different part of the world with a different government and very different economic realities. But as we all know too well in business, change is inevitable, and if you’re not careful and aware of future possibilities, it can send you into a downward spiral that you may never recover from.

My advice is to stay up on the trends, prepare for “what if” scenarios, continue creating memorable brands and content, and make sure your digital strategy is strong and sustainable. It’s easy in 2017 to treat your digital presentation as the second most important part of your brand, but before you know it, it could be the very thing that defines your relevance and success.

Barrett Blogs

Black Friday Sale TODAY For 2022 BSM Summit Tickets

“BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets will begin at 12:01am ET on Friday November 26th and expire at 11:59pm later that same night.”

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There are less than 100 days remaining until the 2022 BSM Summit takes place in New York City. We’ve announced 31 participants for the show so far, and have more to reveal in the weeks and months ahead. I think you’re going to like what’s still to come.

Putting this conference together isn’t easy. It requires months of meetings, brainstorming, promotion, selling sponsorships, pursuing speakers, and creating everything that attendees see on stage over a two day period. I’m thankful to have help from some amazing partners, but as I’ve mentioned previously, this isn’t an event that makes us rich or ends with 5-10 new clients signing up to work with BSM. The goal each year is simple, make sure the conference is valuable for those who attend, and don’t run BSM out of business by doing it. As long as those two things remain solid, it’s worth doing.

Some might wonder, why go thru months of headaches if you’re not going to break the bank or immediately add clients. That’s fair to ask. If you look at it from a pure business standpoint, one could easily make a case that pouring this type of energy into something else could be more lucrative. But money was never the motivation for doing this. I felt the sports media industry lacked a signature event where smart, successful media professionals (who don’t often cross paths) could gather at one location to laugh and learn together, and I wanted to change that. If over a two day period attendees could gain insight, information, ideas, and introductions, it’d put everyone in a stronger position to remain successful.

I’ve unapologetically loved the sports media business since I started listening to Mike & the Mad Dog on WFAN and watching SportsCenter on ESPN. I was fortunate to live and work in a number of cities over the past two decades, learning how different companies and people operate, and I remain involved today thru my work with BSM. I mention this because I also know media people. They tend to wait until the last minute to book hotel rooms, airfare, and purchase tickets, even if they can save money by acting sooner. I know, I used to do it too. I can’t control when you book your room or plane ticket, but I do want to give you an added incentive to buy your ticket to this year’s show. Seating is limited, and once the last seat is filled, that’s it. We can’t make extra room.

With that in mind, most of you are either taking today off or working inside a much quieter building. If you’ve thought about coming to the Summit, take 5-10 minutes to log on to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our special Black Friday sale. We’ve reduced tickets for the day, so whether you’re planning to attend in NYC or watch the conference online, there’s a discount to help you out. Just $199.99 for live tickets, and $124.99 for virtual.

BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets expires at 11:59pm tonight. In the meantime, Hotel Edison in NYC is offering rooms for just $109 + taxes to Summit attendees. Click here to take advantage of the special room rate we’ve secured for this year’s show. Those of you planning to fly to NYC for the show, there have been a ton of great deals offered by American, Southwest, United, JetBlue and Frontier. It might be worth checking into today since Black Friday often has even better sales on travel.

If you’re interested in learning more about the industry, staying a step ahead, forming new relationships, strengthening existing ones, exploring potential business deals, and celebrating the business you’re in, I hope you’ll join us either online or in New York City for the 2022 BSM Summit. I’m making it easier on you, by offering lower ticket prices today. The rest is up to you!

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Barrett Blogs

Craig Carton, Fred Toucher, Mike Felger To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.”

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When you talk to industry people about successful brands in sports talk radio, most conversations include WFAN and 98.5 The Sports Hub. The New York and Boston sports radio brands are consistently recognized for their ability to deliver large audiences and revenues.

Helping to create that success is a mixture of strong play by play partnerships, skilled programmers and even more importantly, some of the most dynamic on-air personalities in the format. Fortunately for us, a few of those gamechangers will be present to share their opinions and insights on content matters in New York City at the 2022 BSM Summit.

Starting in New York, it’s an honor to welcome WFAN afternoon drive host Craig Carton to the 2022 BSM Summit. Heard daily on ‘Carton and Roberts‘ alongside Evan Roberts, which is also featured on TV on SNY, Carton has made his presence felt ever since returning to the airwaves in November 2020. Prior to taking on the challenge in afternoons, Craig spent a decade partnering with Boomer Esiason on ‘Boomer and Carton‘, forming one of the most successful sports radio morning shows in the country. In addition to enjoying success in New York, Craig has also experienced the ups and downs that come with performing in different markets. His radio travels have taken him to Philadelphia, Denver, Buffalo and Trenton, NJ. The Syracuse graduate and outspoken host is expected to join BSM President Jason Barrett for a one on one conversation at this year’s Summit.

Shipping up to Boston, it’s a pleasure to welcome two of the format’s highest rated performers to New York City. They’re heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub in morning and afternoon drive, and at the Summit, they’ll interact together during an in-depth content conversation with BSM President Jason Barrett.

Fred Toucher is one half of the Sports Hub’s popular morning show ‘Toucher & Rich‘, which recently added syndication. The Detroit native started his career in Georgia before moving to Boston in 2005. Toucher & Rich, which includes Rich Shertenlieb, officially moved into the sports talk format in 2009. Since making the format switch, the duo have consistently produced some of the best ratings in the entire format in mornings during the past fifteen years. Toucher & Rich have also been recognized by industry executives as one of the top two morning shows in the format each of the past three years in the BSM Top 20, including taking top honors in 2018.

Mike Felger on the other hand is heard on the ride home alongside Tony Massarotti on The Sports Hub. The Marconi Award-winning afternoon radio show has been a fixture in Boston since the station’s inception in 2009. During the past twelve years, Felger & Mazz have been a steady force atop the Men 25-54 ratings including recently delivering an impressive 18.9 share in the summer book to finish 1st. The Milwaukee native also hosts a show for NBC Boston, and has previously served as a columnist for the Boston Globe. Similar to Toucher & Rich, Felger & Mazz have earned high praise from format execs in the BSM Top 20. They’ve been voted one of the top 2 afternoon shows each of the past 2 years including grabbing the top spot in 2019.

We’re excited to add all three of these men to the lineup for the 2022 BSM Summit. As vital as it may be to spend time on business issues in order to stay ahead of a rapidly changing media climate, without great talent and content, the rest is irrelevant. Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.

To reserve your hotel room, purchase tickets or learn more about the speakers we’ve lined up for the 2022 show, visit BSMSummit.com. We hope to see you online or in New York City this March.

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Barrett Blogs

BSM Summit Adds Borrell, Crain, Cutler, Goldstein, Scott, Shapiro & Thomas

“The Summit is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited.”

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The 2022 BSM Summit continues to add firepower to the sports media industry’s premier conference. After previously announcing the first twenty one participants to take part in March’s event in New York City, another seven talented media professionals have been added to the speaker schedule.

Making his BSM Summit debut in 2022 will be the media industry’s leading business analyst Gordon Borrell. The well respected and accomplished CEO of Borrell Associates is featured frequently in the trades and mainstream publications for his insights on advertising trends and forecasts in local media. Borrell will join Amplifi Media CEO Steven Goldstein on stage at the Summit for an in-depth discussion on the advertising climate in 2022. The two men will offer insights and opinions on what advertisers value most, where they’re expected to invest future dollars, which categories will continue to rise and decline, and what brands can do to position themselves better to increase revenue. Additionally, Borrell will be hosting his local advertising conference in Miami a few days after the Summit. Those interested in heading to South Beach and learning more about the marketing world can learn more by clicking here.

Switching to the content end, the Summit is thrilled to welcome The Volume’s Jake Crain to New York City. The host of The JBoy Show will also be making his debut at the conference. Crain will be part of a talent panel along with John Jastremski and Kazeem Famuyide.

Also making his debut at the Summit will be Carl Scott. Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio will join our podcasting panel featuring Blue Wire CEO Kevin Jones and The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim. Hubbard Radio’s Digital Content Director Phil Mackey will guide the conversation.

Not everyone participating at the Summit will be new to the audience though. Returning to the stage as part of our GM’s discussion will be newly appointed Audacy Boston Market Manager Mike Thomas. Thomas recently led ESPN 1000 in Chicago as the station’s GM after working with Mark Hannon to turn 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston into one of sports radio’s top performing stations. It should be noted that each time Thomas appears at the Summit it follows a recent promotion. We figure by 2023 or 2024 he’ll be running the entire industry.

A Summit isn’t complete without attention given to programming matters. To help us address some of those key issues, we’re excited to welcome back the Vice President of FOX Sports Radio & Podcasts Scott Shapiro. The passionate network executive who oversees many of the nation’s top national programs is always a great listen for folks interested in learning how programmer’s view and tackle the industry’s most important affairs.

Last but certainly not least, voice talent extraordinaire Jim Cutler will return to the stage to lead a session on storytelling. One of the industry’s prominent station voices and creative minds has a penchant for putting on entertaining and informative sessions. If you’ve attended the conference before, you’re already aware. To those planning to catch this one, you’re in for a treat.

Keep an eye out over the next two weeks. We’ll be making additional announcements involving a few high profile talents we’ve lined up for the 2022 BSM Summit. A reminder, the event is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited. I realize some folks may prefer to wait until the last minute to make sure the world is safe. If you’re not comfortable flying to NY for the show, we do have an option in place to enjoy the conference virtually thanks to NuVoodoo Media. For more information on tickets, click here.

That said, the in-person environment is excellent. If you haven’t attended the Summit before I think you’ll find the two days in New York City to be time well spent. This conference is not open to the general public. You must either presently work in an area of the media industry or be pursuing a degree in the broadcasting field.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we still have some sponsorship opportunities available for the show. We’re thrilled to have the support of great partners, ESPN Radio, Premiere Networks, FOX Sports Radio, Stone Voiceovers, Compass Media Networks, Point to Point Marketing, and Core Image Studio. If you’d like to be part of the event too, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com for additional details.

One final note, airfare is low right now. There are roundtrip flights to and from New York from many major cities for less than $200.00. We’ve also secured a low hotel rate of $109.00 per night at Hotel Edison in NYC to help companies and individuals keep costs down. The sports media industry has endured two years of difficulty due to the pandemic, preventing many from networking, learning, celebrating, and growing. The two days we spend together in the big apple won’t solve every issue facing our business, but I promise you’ll leave the show more informed, more connected, and better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Hope to see you in New York on March 2nd and 3rd.

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