When you think about New York City, it’s easy to form a mental picture of the city’s landmarks, bridges, skyscrapers, and traffic. Maybe you’ll even think of the large melting pot of people, the amazing food, the yellow taxi cabs, the area’s sports teams or the numerous politicians who chase cameras and microphones on a daily basis.
But at the center of everything lies one key word – competition.
Think about the way the big apple has been presented to you over the years. The concrete jungle. Market #1. The city that never sleeps. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Only in New York. Add them all up and what does it mean? You better stay focused, hungry, and continue evolving every single day because the moment you don’t, might be your last.
For Tim McCarthy, that’s never been a concern. Thirty plus years of passion, drive and success in the nation’s largest market managing some of the biggest brands and personalities buys you not only a little bit of breathing room, but also a front row seat to New York radio history. As much as he’s enjoyed the view though, Tim’s also made sure to leave his prints on the talk radio scene. From Sean Hannity to Stephen A. Smith to Michael Kay and others, McCarthy has played a role in helping launch some of the city’s biggest personalities on both the local and national stages.
Today, you can find Tim in New York doing what he’s always done – using his experience, love for radio and ability to connect with people to deliver results for 98.7 ESPN NY. Sure, his job may include the task of leading ESPN LA 710’s staff from three thousand miles away, and the added challenge of trying to satisfy local fans and clients while doing what’s best for the world’s largest national sports media company, but if this is what life’s biggest problems have become in 2021, McCarthy is more than happy to sign up and deal with it well into the future.
In a city where sports radio ratings stories get shared by multiple newspapers on a monthly basis, McCarthy appreciates that people care enough about his industry to cover it thoroughly. We spoke for forty five minutes last week about the New York sports radio scene, the challenge of serving two masters, the status of the ESPN Radio network, the future of sports betting, challenges with Nielsen, and much more. Tim’s candor and confidence stood out during our conversation, which reminded me that it’s OK to enjoy the ride even in a competitive city like New York. Given all that Tim’s experienced, it’s been one fun, fulfilling professional journey.
Jason Barrett: Before we dive into your experiences in sports radio, let’s go backwards for a minute and educate folks on where your radio journey began. Where did you get your start?
Tim McCarthy: It started at WPLJ in New York. I was lucky enough to start in retail sales. At the time, WPLJ wasn’t what most knew it to become. It was doing horribly and changing its formula it seemed every other day. The economy wasn’t great either. We had a bunch of revolving morning shows, Archer, David Haney, Rocky Allen and then eventually Scott and Todd. I sold there for three years and then the local sales manager job came open at WABC. Although we were on the same floor it was two different countries. The brands were different, ratings were different, the Yankees were on ABC and not very good, and I pitched myself for the job. I remember 78 people applied for the job. I was lucky enough that Don Bouloukus, who was running ABC Radio at the time, took a liking to me. I guess he liked that I did things a little different, and so I went over to WABC.
JB: So was the move to WABC what opened the door to a run with ESPN? I’m guessing that’s where you crossed paths with Traug Keller right?
TM: I crossed paths with Traug at WABC because I eventually became GM there. I was in that position for 8-9 years. I was Traug’s client because we ran the ABC Radio network. Traug would negotiate those deals with me or call me up and say ‘you’ve got to carry this show, you’re killing me’. What changed was when we got Hannity. We took him from Atlanta and put him on at night. Then Bob Grant left and we thought ‘this guy’s pretty good’ and we moved him into afternoon drive. He was young, in his 30’s, and it clicked, so Traug, Mitch Dolan and I got together and said ‘we can syndicate this on all of our stations and force feed the audience.’ Which is how it should work. We made that move on September 10, 2001, the day before 9/11 hit. Talk about timing.
So how that leads to ESPN, I was running WABC and Radio Disney. We got the news in August 2001 that we had picked up an ESPN station. It was going to be all network and we had to put that on the air in 30 days. We went on the air with the station the week before 9/11. That’s how I got involved with the brand.
JB: So the ESPN station you’re referring to is 1050. That station would soon employ Rob Astorino, Wally & The Keeg, and Brandon Tierney among others.
TM: We did in fact have Senator Astorino there. Wally and the Keeg were the only show we aired that wasn’t from the network. Then we added Brandon to host shows at night.
JB: I remember BT would turn the sports updates into :60 to :90 second talk shows. He definitely belonged hosting a show, updates were not his cup of tea.
TM: BT definitely had a lot of personality and he’s gone on to have a very successful career. I’d love having him back in our company someday. So sadly, everything with 1050 happened around 9/11. We took over this station, and nobody paid much attention to it for the first few months. It had been a Jewish radio station before we took control of it. We started simulcasting WABC on both signals first. That was what most people cared about. That put us kind of behind the fray for the first two years in terms of building the 1050 brand.
JB: You mentioned earlier that you started your career in sales. I know many though who’ve worked with you who say you’ve got a lot of strong opinions on programming. You’ve worked with a number of smart programmers including Justin Craig, Dave Roberts, Kevin Graham, Ryan Hurley, Mike Thompson, and Aaron Spielberg just to name a few. Given you have such a strong interest in content and talent and an important voice in shaping ESPN’s major market brands, how did you develop your programming instincts?
TM: Honestly, it was at WABC. I just love the talk format. The more I got into it and listened and heard things whether it be from a caller or someplace else. We had a caller named John Batchelor. I heard John one Friday night while I was driving home from the city, and I called the producer on Monday and asked ‘who was that guy you had on the air on Friday night?’ He said, ‘that was John Batchelor and Paulie who worked with Bloomberg Digital or Bloomberg Magazine.’ I said ‘those guys are really interesting’ and I went to Phil Boyce and said ‘we should put him on more’.
I think I just got better with understanding things over time. At first, people are like ‘yeah OK buddy, you don’t know what you’re talking about’, but over time when things become more successful, you kind of earn your keep. John’s show became a huge hit and we wound up syndicating it. Hannity was another who I felt strongly about as the replacement for Bob Grant. Then we brought John Gambling over, and added Curtis & Kuby and Warner Wolf, so for me it’s all about seeing something grow from here to there. Look at Stephen A. Smith. He was on 1050 and is now a rockstar and I couldn’t be happier for him. In the old days, as a PD you would try someone out at night, listen to how they do, see if some numbers pop, and if they showed something you might move them to middays. Then if that kicks, you consider AM or PM drive. It’s harder to do that these days and I think that’s one of the bigger problems we have in the industry right now.
JB: I’ve always thought it’s silly to assume that someone who’s worked in sales can’t add value to a programming conversation and the same with programming folks not being able to make a difference in revenue discussions. That’s something I pride myself on and I know other programmers in the format who do as well. Ultimately creating must-listen programming comes down to having people on the air who are unique, talented, and interesting. It’s easier when you see someone like Michael Kay or Stephen A. and can look at their body of work and feel comfortable trusting them with a prime spot on your radio station, but you’ve helped elevate folks like Rick DiPietro, Chris Canty and Peter Rosenberg too who also had talent but didn’t walk in the door with lengthy sports media resumes. When it comes to identifying a talent to contribute to one of your radio stations, what is it you’re looking for?
TM: There are a few things. First, what role are they going to play? John Batchelor is probably a little different, but Peter, Chris and Rick, what role are they going to play within a show to add something different and help us win? I think that’s important. Not everyone can do it. Sometimes guys overpower each other and it doesn’t work. You mentioned Michael Kay, Michael has evolved incredibly over the years. I told Michael a long time ago ‘being the Yankees guy is not going to be good enough’. You have to be more than that and remember that it’s about the entertainment and sports not sports and entertainment.
So I think it circles back to roles, and then secondarily, if it’s a singular role and not part of a team, how can I develop this person to be different than anything else that’s out there. That’s kind of what made Peter a great fit for us. A lot of people thought I was nuts at the time for bringing him in, including myself, and I remember going to see Michael at the stadium and tell him ‘you’re not going to like this but here’s what I want to do’. He said ‘isn’t that the disco guy on Hot 97?’ I said ‘if everyone knows the role they have to play on a show it’ll work because the entertainment value will be better.’
JB: What I find fascinating about this is that doing that with one group in one building is hard enough. But then you factor in that you have to also oversee ESPN Los Angeles, a brand in the 2nd largest market in America, and then oh by the way, make sure that anything you do also keeps the bosses in Bristol happy because they too have certain things they want to see happen with your local stations given that they own them. How do you balance trying to appease both the local and national overlords?
TM: It’s not easy. Norby Williamson who we report to gets it. He understands the value of ratings and personalities. What I think is important is that the PD’s understand the symmetry from show to show. Network and local can work really well together if everyone understands the symmetry and connections. That includes updating creative promos, getting the network talent on the local shows and the local hosts on the national shows.
The other thing too we’ve done, if we feel a local show is stronger we’ll take all of the network elements and run them in the local show. We may have to cut back on our local inventory but now we’ve served the network in the hopes that we can get a higher rating that benefits everyone. In LA it’s a little more difficult due to the time change. We actually just added two local hours to the lineup.
The challenge is the same, it’s getting everyone to believe in the same thing, and understand the common good. Listen, sometimes local may have to take it on the chin because it’s better for the company.
JB: But I know you, and you’re a very competitive guy. So too are some of the people you manage. You go back to last year, and 98.7 ESPN NY was rolling. The Kay Show was especially strong in afternoons, and then a number of national changes were made, the station expanded to six shows during a 13-hour period which I’m sure like most operators you had to have questions about, and soon thereafter the momentum slowed down. I understand that sometimes you have to give up some ground to do what’s best for the overall business, but you also have to deal with those folks on the inside who are going to look at you and say ‘Timmy, we’re right there, and now you want us to take our foot off the gas?’ How do you handle that?
TM: I get those questions all the time. You’re right, our guys are very competitive, as am I. The honest answer is that when you work for a great company like ESPN, there’s the benefits and the things you have to adapt to. I would say that our benefits far outweigh the other things that some may have an issue with. As a manager, I try to make that clear to people.
Here’s an example, if we have the World Series and the Yankees are in it, we may not have the local rights but now all of a sudden we love running the network. Listen, it’s not easy, but again, there’s a bigger play here. The company provides us with great promotion and opportunity and it works. I think in some ways, and I hope folks understand what I mean when I say this, but the local ESPN stations in some ways are a minor league system for talent. We’ve got Alan Hahn, Chris Carlin, Bob Wischusen, and Bart Scott all doing stuff for us. That’s a good thing for the station, the talent, and the company. So again, sometimes you take it on the chin, but the overall benefit is positive.
My goal is to get people to a better place. Chris Canty did First Take last week. I gave him the week off to focus on that show because he hasn’t done it. Ryan and my sales team were ticked, and rightfully so. They should’ve been mad at me. But I said to them ‘For the good of Chris and the company, I’m going to give him the time off. Our guy is there. He’s in the Olympics. We have to give him the shot to perform. If we lose ratings or revenue for this one week because of it then shame on us. Then we didn’t do something right to make up for him being away.’
JB: Having spent time focusing on the juggling act between local and national, I want to pick your brain on the network. As you know, hundreds of stations take the company’s programming. The identity of ESPN has always been strong, but anytime change takes place, folks are going to have questions. As you look at ESPN Radio today, what do you see as its biggest advantages, and what are some things you believe need to be improved?
TM: The biggest strength of course is the ESPN brand. Affiliates want that brand association. I also believe our play by play is a big strength of ours. Take for instance a game like Clemson-Georgia to kick off college football. That’s a huge game and we have it. Those are I think huge strengths.
In the past, we’ve done a great job developing talent, and right now it’s a work in progress. The network folks are trying different things and seeing what works, and look, it’s hard. We’re a multiplatform company that likes to do multiplatform things, so the question becomes ‘how can we serve our entire audience the right way, satisfy our affiliates, and still generate ratings?’ That’s really hard. I’m a big believer that you always have to be filling the pipeline. But you also have a year and a half of Covid and pipelines cost money. So that’s a challenge too, where do we invest our money? It’s not perfect but I know the network is looking really hard at different things and hopefully it pays off in the long run.
JB: I’ve talked to Dave and Justin before, and both want to deliver for the affiliates. Yes the brand is massive, and that association with the network is worth some of the trade offs for stations when the network is going thru changes. Stations may bitch because they want certain things but they partner with ESPN because they know those four letters have value. That said, I’ve been critical of one thing which I know frustrates affiliates and that’s the inconsistency with the network’s weekday lineup. Change is OK. Everyone goes thru it. But when it happens multiple times in less than a year, it’s going to lead to folks becoming impatient. If you were running a local brand not owned by ESPN and asking local advertisers to support you and local people to listen to you, it’d be hard to expect them to stay loyal when every few months you have to report back with news of another change. Eventually they’re going to be less enthusiastic because stability is important. As a GM, and someone who deals with affiliates and speaks their language, how do you alleviate their concerns that better days are ahead for the network?
TM: Change is never good or easy. There’s always pain with change and we have to all be willing to accept that. By the same token, we have to take chances and one of the challenges we have is that we run our programming on both TV and radio. We may be killing it on TV but not on radio and for the overall good, that’s a win. You look at bringing Mike Greenberg back to radio, that’s a homerun. I don’t care what his ratings are, he does a great radio show. I tell our salespeople all the time, if you can’t sell Greeny and the type of show he does then shame on you.
I would tell affiliates to keep wrapping their heads around the brand. We’re going to keep looking for ways to improve. They’re taking ESPN Radio for a reason. If they felt they had something much better they’d probably not be taking us. We’re glad they do, and it’s not perfect, and change is not easy for everyone, but we’re making moves to try and provide better programming to help everyone.
JB: Let’s move away from the programming discussion for a second and talk about the personal challenges you and many others in leadership positions were forced to navigate over the past fifteen months. Traug left the company, you took on Los Angeles along with New York, and then weeks later the pandemic hits, the industry gets rocked financially, ESPN goes thru some changes on-air and in key leadership roles, and all the while you’re trying to lead staffs while dealing with limitations caused by governments installing measures to try and keep people safe. What has that been like for you?
TM: I’ll tell you what’s been really frustrating, is the fact that I can’t be in LA. I was going out there every other week and I really like our team there. I was excited that the three months before we were building momentum and felt we were going to do some really great things and then the pandemic hit. I’ll tell ya Jason, it’s really hard to manage people over Zoom. We’ve gotten used to it and made the most of the situation but the challenge is ‘how do we motivate people and keep their heads in the game this way?’ Let’s face it, anyone who says ‘I’m working 10x harder than I ever did’ probably isn’t.
I think the quality of certain things have gotten better. The conversations have definitely been better. The advertising side has been really frustrating. Our business, regardless of how much it changes, is still going to be ‘meet, greet, trust’, all those things that matter. Particularly on the retail side. Let’s say you’re meeting with a car dealer, they’ve been with you, you’re going to put a plan together, he or she trusts you, and you both feel good that it’s going to work. But now, we have situations where automobile can’t get cars. The beer business can’t get cans. So what happens? We’re not going to advertise right now, we’re going to push it off. Sports betting fortunately has been tremendous. But you throw all those other factors in, while not being able to see people to sell them, and it’s been nothing but a challenge.
As we come out of it, and I’ve had this discussion with my team, how do we keep motivating our staff and our advertisers? I believe radio is going to come back stronger. I don’t think people are going to be jumping on a bus or train anytime soon. You see it with the traffic in New York. The in-car experience is going to be really important. We’ve done a lot of Zoom events with clients in both NY and LA. We did one with the NY Jets, another with AROD, and we did an NFL Draft show. Engagement, engagement, engagement is very important. Our sales manager Pete Doherty had a great idea, we had these 98.7 ESPN NY speakers ‘listen at home’, and we sent them out to our clients. We’ve got to get our call letters in front of everyone because the number of meters that are out there haven’t increased.
JB: You just struck a nerve because that is a conversation that we could spend hours on. The sports radio format in my opinion remains largely underrepresented. It’s maddening because the programming not only reaches way more people than it gets credit for, but the framing of the format as a niche space rather than as one of the most important places an advertiser can put their business in is foolish. For instance, I produce quarterly ratings stories on this website. We show how stations in the format perform from city to city and most do pretty well. However, these numbers don’t show the true power of their streaming sessions, podcast downloads, TV simulcasts, content created or promoted on social media, etc.. We’re positioned as this niche format that performs for one specific demographic and the results are based on what 8-10 people carrying this antiquated device do yet sports is one of the most important parts of society and one of the last true content destinations where people have to listen live. I know our full reach and influence is greater than the story we present but at the same time, as an industry, that’s partly our fault because we’re the ones who’ve signed up for this service and accepted it, knowing that it doesn’t reflect what we’re delivering on a daily basis.
TM: Exactly. The audio business is very large. I’ve said this all along, Nielsen can not play Switzerland. They have to actually make statements. They can’t allow folks who sell their stream in a different advertising space to combine their streaming numbers and throw it out in the marketplace. It’s no different than me taking Michael Kay’s TV numbers on YES and throwing them into a sales plan when I’m not running the same commercials. I think Nielsen has to embrace all of these platforms and come up with a real measurable way to say here’s a true number. If they’re not going to increase meters, they need to deliver all this stuff. We have radio shows that are offered in multiple locations yet we don’t get radio credit if people consume it on social media or television. How much are we losing because someone says ‘I love the show but I’m going to watch it on TV?’
Once again, it drives down this editorial from the press that radio is going this way while podcasting is going the other way. Podcasting is a radio station in short form. We need to start getting credit for the things we do and whether it’s Nielsen, ourselves or the industry as a whole, we need to come up with a solution because we’re doing a lot of the right things but don’t have enough to show for it.
JB: Before I got on a tangent over ratings, you mentioned earlier how important sports betting business has been to radio. I want to dive deeper into that space for a minute because everyone recognizes that the category is hot right now and being able to seize the opportunity is important. But where does this road eventually lead to? Do we eventually have an ESPN The Bet? Does Betcasting around live games become more mainstream? Do we one day have a surplus of national sports radio betting networks the way we have a flood of sports television programming on television? How do you see this shaping up?
TM: It’s not going to go away. It’s always been here. It’s always been part of our lexicon in the sports world. The only difference is it wasn’t allowed to be broadcast or pushed and now it is. You have these great companies like DraftKings, FanDuel and others doing it and our format is where the fish are. We consume it, bet on it, and live it. Do I think it’s going to be a bigger content play? I do but I don’t think it’ll ever replace great personalities. If a great talent can provide strong entertainment value you won’t have to worry about it because you’ll drive ratings and revenue.
Will sports betting content become a bigger part of other areas whether it’s weekend shows, nighttime shows or vignettes? Yes. I think that’s going to grow. But I don’t think it’s going to grow to the level where you’re replacing shows like Michael Kay’s afternoon program or SportsCenter simply because it’s more focused on betting.
JB: Let’s wrap up on a few New York sports radio items. Each day you wake up and you go to work representing the bigger brand in sports in the nation’s top market, facing the brand that started the format, WFAN. You’ve taken your hits from them, and you’ve also caused them some real headaches along the way. What is the best and worst part about the daily grind of going head to head against The Fan?
TM: First, our biggest challenge is whether or not the radio is off. Next, our competitor isn’t WFAN. It’s any male brand that can take our audience away. The challenge I love is the everyday battle of how are we going to do things better, faster, younger, etc..
Listen, The Fan is a great radio station. They always have been. Their brand is huge. They got good people there. I know their market manager Chris Oliviero. He’s a great guy. I love the fact that they never give up and it’s always a head to head battle. It’s Curry vs. LeBron. I remember when I was on the AM band starting out, it wasn’t the same. Now, everyone is always adapting. That’s good. It keeps everyone on their game. We have the ESPN brand, and all the things we do around that brand are important. Simple things such as ‘what promos are we creating to build up interest in the Knicks playoff game and the shows on Monday?’ That’s the stuff I drive Ryan crazy over.
The downside is that it never ends. As good as you are, you’re always pushing that rock up hill. If we beat The Fan, great, that’s now, what’s next? They’re not going to give up. They’re going to make changes. They brought in Craig Carton, we knew that was going to happen, and they keep coming so what are we doing to stay on top of our game?
JB: You mentioned Craig. I don’t know if you saw this, but Michael was on JJ’s podcast and he mentioned being more concerned competing against Craig than he was with Mike Francesa. Those prior battles against Francesa drew a lot of attention, and the road ahead vs. Carton should provide more of the same. When you hear that, what do you tell Michael?
TM: I tell Michael, Don and Peter all the time, keep doing the show you’re doing. They’ve been successful for a reason. They’re a morning show in afternoon drive. I listen to that show for the camaraderie, storytelling, the bits and connection they have with their audience. Don’t worry about Craig or anyone else. The listeners will seek out what they want. You can’t adapt to them. I tell them ‘Guys, you’re doing a great job, don’t worry about it. When Ryan or I hear something that’s off, we’ll tell you. We don’t hear that though so keep rolling.’
JB: The last thing I have for you is ‘what keeps you motivated to do what you’re doing and are there any goals you haven’t accomplished yet that you still hope to achieve?
TM: I love working with the talent and helping them get to the next level. Whether it be someone like Chris Canty earning a bigger role on TV or something else. This is going to sound kind of lame but my job is to help people get to that next place. That keeps me engaged. I’m also proud of the fact that a lot of people have stayed with this radio station in New York for a long time, all the way back to when people were making fun of us when we were on 1050AM. Now they’re not making fun anymore. They care about this brand and the people involved in it. That keeps me energized.
And the same with LA. I was out there eight years ago and now I’m back involved and we have a really good group that gives a crap about radio and what we do every single day. Whether it’s a call on a Friday night or the weekend, I have no problem taking those calls because they care. As I tell everyone at the station, listen more. If you hear something that doesn’t sound right, let us know about it. I like taking on challenges and helping brands and people improve. We want our products to be the best they can be. Just being able to make things a little better keeps me motivated and engaged.
Meet The Market Manager: Mark Glynn, iHeartMedia Seattle
“It doesn’t matter if it’s this industry or it’s a medical device industry. It’s always is always evolving and always changing. There’s always going to be a competitor that’s going to come in and it’s going to shake things up, and you always have to be on your toes.”
Before we called it iHeartMedia, the company was named Clear Channel and Mark Glynn was working in its Minneapolis building. That doesn’t mean it was a straight line to his current position leading iHeart’s Seattle cluster.
He changed companies while in the North Star State. While he was a National Sales Manager at KATZ Radio, he had a boss that encouraged him not to put down roots too early. See what else is out there.
That is how Mark Glynn ended up in Seattle twelve years ago. Two years after arriving, he came back to Clear Channel, which again, became iHeartMedia.
Mark is the latest subject of our Meet the Market Managers series presented by Point to Point Marketing and there is plenty to discuss. He and his team just moved the legendary KJR to the FM dial. They also are the flagship radio partner of the Seattle Kraken, which just wrapped up their first season in the NHL.
Our conversation hits on both of those topics as well as the advantages the iHeartRadio app gives him with clients, marijuana advertising, and the future of audience measurement.
Demetri Ravanos: I’m sure moving KJR to FM is something the programming staff had been telling you they wanted and were ready for a long time. But from your vantage point, what happened in the spring that made you say, “Okay, now it’s time to make this move”?
Mark Glynn: That’s a great question. You know, frankly, it was a game-changer. It’s something that Rich Moore, my Senior VP of Programming, and I had been talking about. But it really starts with going and looking at our play-by-play contracts and what we’ve been able to develop through the pandemic.
We knew that if we could pull this off, it was going to be huge, not only for our staff but for the sports fan in Seattle. And certainly watching our sister station, KFAN in Minneapolis, have such huge success was a confidence booster for us. I think this is the world’s greatest sports fanbase in Seattle, evidence to the fact that Seattle Kraken sold out their inaugural season so quickly. It was a no-brainer, but it takes time to build and you’re always concerned when you’re leaping from one branch to the next with what are all of the pitfalls that could happen or if they were going to happen, how would we react. So obviously it took time, but after we made the decision to finally go, it was a matter of how we go and when do we go with the new format on FM.
While we were working through some of our final tactical execution in a meeting, our great APD, Kevin Shockey, was on Twitter doing prep, and suddenly he’s like, “by golly, Russell [Wilson] was traded to the Broncos.
Rich and I looked at each other and we said simultaneously, this is our moment. We had to act. And in 40 minutes we moved up our timeline and our brilliant team put together really, truly an incredible strategy to get on the air, launching at 12 for the 12s, and from there on was born Sports Radio 933 KJR FM Seattle’s Sports Leader.
By moving our legendary KJR to the FM dial, we were able to start growing really, truly the next generation of Seattle sports fans and now with the FM and the AM, we were truly able to enhance our sports platform to be the number one destination for the sports fan here in Seattle and change the game.
DR: What makes the Seattle fans the best in the country, as you say, and what is the place for sports radio in day-to-day culture in Seattle?
MG: I think that the consumer here in Seattle is so hungry, 24/7, for information about their teams. What will the Drew Lock era with the Seahawks be? Who are the Kraken going to pick up in this coming draft? What’s going on with the Mariners?
With this move, we’re able to become bigger and louder and be a place of destination for the fans’ reaction. It does give us an opportunity to really be the home of the fan and drive that interaction like we did on the AM but just in a bigger fashion, if that makes sense.
DR: Let’s talk about the Kraken, because I’m very interested in what the decision-making process was like in deciding that this is a property you were going to doggedly pursue. I mean, did it begin with the excitement around the name, or were you guys deep into your planning long before that?
MG: We were definitely in it long before that. We actually have to back up to the University of Washington. It was really a centered and concerted play-by-play strategy we presented them. The University of Washington is a key franchise in this market. It was truly the catalyst to everything else because of how important UW is to the Seattle community. You talk about passion, right? It was important for Rich Moore and me to bring the university back under our roof.
Simultaneous to working with the great folks at the university, we started working with NHL Seattle, and we built out a joint programming/sales strategy to help with the inaugural ticket drive. The strong success that we had in helping the Kraken sell out their season in, I think, 12 minutes really helped us get to the table and have a different conversation for the play-by-play rights.
Truthfully, it goes to the relationship that Tod Leiweke and Rich Moore had that dates back to the Seahawks. Those building blocks were really what cemented the partnership in that we were working on a different playing field. Yes, the financials all needed to make sense, but without Tod’s vision and Rich’s vision, and myself, we couldn’t get to the table to truly have this partnership that we do. And if you’ve ever read anything about Tod, there is an extreme passion to everything that he touches, whether it’s the Maple Leafs, the Lightning, the Seahawks, the Sounders, and the Kraken.
We knew that this was a franchise that we wanted to be part of because we could see the passion growing within the community. I believe that the Kraken is still the number one NHL franchise from a merchandising standpoint. That’s important, right? That speaks volumes about passion.
DR: Maybe I’m simplifying this, but it certainly seems like iHeart really values play-by-play partnerships, particularly flagship partnerships. I would guess you got nothing but support from the corporate level about pursuing both UW and the Kraken at that time.
MG: Yeah, absolutely. The company is really interested in exploring more of this. You know, we work intimately with both Greg Ashlock and Kevin LeGrett in this strategy development. It is important that we continue to look at this.
We are continuing to look at and analyze different play-by-play opportunities within the Seattle market because I don’t think that we’re done here. We’ve got three stations that can support really solid play-by-play content. And as we all know, content is king.
DR: So speaking of “content is king,” the digital side of the business, obviously, has never been more important than it is right now. I wonder this not just about the iHeartRadio app, I would ask the same thing about the Audacy app. When you are dealing with what is on someone’s phone, being part of a larger national app, is that advantageous for people to be able to find you from outside the market, or do you have any concerns about getting lost in such a big ecosystem of content?
MG: That ecosystem only makes us better. The iHeartRadio app allows for incredible distribution of any content. So with the Kraken and with the NHL, there are no geofencing restrictions. With that structure, snowbirds going down to the Phoenix area or to Palm Springs in California in the winter and getting away from the rain, if they are passionate about the Kraken, they can still tune in to the iHeartRadio app, go to KJR and consume that Seattle Kraken content whether they’re on a golf course or whatever it might be. I think it makes us more connected.
DR: That is a very interesting aspect of NHL play-by-play. Is that something that is worth bringing up with clients in Seattle or is the focus kept on how the station and the team reach the local market?
MG: The app in itself is always something to brag about. I mean, we are very proud of the app and being able to be distributed through the iHeartRadio app. It’s definitely a game-changer from that standpoint.
But again, it goes to the network that we’re building out. Rich has done a phenomenal job, along with Mike Benton, who is one of our hosts within the Kraken broadcast, and Kevin Shockey in building out a robust affiliate network for the Kraken. So I think that when you look at distribution vehicles, the affiliate network along with iHeartRadio is something that we definitely brag about when we’re talking to our clients because it’s about reach, right? It’s a part of how we maximize the reach for our clients and build the best possible program so that they can harness the power of the fans.
DR: I want to ask you about generating revenue at this particular moment in history. I think if anybody outside of Seattle knows anything about it, they know it is an expensive place, right? It’s hard for me to fathom what we’re going through right now with inflation has done in that aspect. So what does that do to your kind of advertising community? Is it is it possible for some of those small businesses there to have the budgets to make the big buys that we see in some other markets?
MG: I think it’s possible, but I think it starts with strategy. It starts with what are the goals of the client. Then from there, backing into what the best possible product it could be. It could be play-by-play. It could be shoulder programming with one of our great commentators like Ian Furness, who is a hockey wonk. It’s about finding the right programming to tie them into. There are always going to be ways for us to build programs. It really just comes back to what are the client’s goals, and then how we help them achieve it. It might be a different vehicle than their initial idea.
I think the other thing is, is that our partnership with the Oak View Group and Seattle Kraken has been something I’ve never experienced before. We walk hand-in-hand somewhat married together in opening doors, whether it’s us opening doors for them or them opening doors for us. That has been something that has been pretty unique throughout this process that has separated us from the pack.
DR: What are some of the challenges now and maybe even contingency plans that you have had to deal with and develop as Covid changed this industry?
MG: Yeah, I think it’s a good question. The leadership team that’s with me is pivoting. We have to be able to pivot. And if a plan that we built isn’t coming to fruition, we’ve got to be able to identify it really quickly, but then in the same breath, build a strategy that we believe is going to overcome it and help drive the success that we need. Nothing is ever going to be perfect.
It doesn’t matter if it’s this industry or it’s a medical device industry. It’s always is always evolving and always changing. There’s always going to be a competitor that’s going to come in and it’s going to shake things up, and you always have to be on your toes. I think that’s something that we take a lot of pride in being in this market, is we’ve really changed that philosophy of going from our heels to our toes.
DR: Think about the way listener behavior shifted during the pandemic. You see all of these stations, regardless of format, reporting 50% and more of their listenership now coming through streaming platforms, directly from the website, whatever.
Does that give you any kind of optimism in your chair as the market manager that someone, whether it’s Nielsen or another company, somebody is going to wake up to having to sort of simplify the measurement process for audio audiences, because you’d have to figure out how to do both broadcast and digital, right, in order for it to paint a complete picture.
MG: Yes. I am hopeful that Nielsen will evolve their measurement practice. We’re already seeing our agency partners shift how they buy media to mirror more of a digital approach with CPMs. The reality is that consumers’ media consumption is rapidly changing and it will likely continue – so how we buy and sell media will also evolve. But, speaking in depth about Nielsen’s evolution is something I can’t do…
In regards to iHeartMedia’s evolution, I believe we have put ourselves in a great position to reach the consumer where ever and whenever. Our company has developed a holistic platform capable of reaching the masses along with the ability to reach down to a single device into a more 1:1 relationship. With our robust platform, reaching over 90% of Americans, I am confident that we’re going to continue our evolution in mirroring what the consumer needs and wants as our consumers continue their media consumption evolution.
DR: I’m going to wrap up by delving into what you talked about with your team, always being ready to pivot. You know, it wasn’t that long ago that marijuana became legal to purchase in Seattle.
I wonder how much you think about the day that might come when you can take advertising money from that industry, even if iHeart says you can’t do it right now, have you started thinking about how that might happen for you in the future?
MG: I know that the company itself is working with legislators to figure out how to make that work. It’s obviously a federal situation right now. The Washington State Broadcasters Association I know is very heavily involved with lobbying for that because it is an opportunity, just like gambling is in other states across the country. We’ve obviously taken our fair share of that business here through the Native American tribes. But this is new and it is a category that we’re closely watching.
Meet The Market Managers: Jay Davis, Cumulus Media Oklahoma City
“We’ve had these great radio stations for a long time and we’ve kept our top talent on the air. So we’ve been very consistent with what our presentation sounds like, looks like, etc. I think people see it as destination employment.”
When you work with a guy for over thirty years, you get used to the consistency, but you have to know the conversation is coming. At some point, one of you will turn to the other and say that it’s over.
That is how I met Jay Davis. When Chris Baker told him he was ready to step down as Program Director of 98.1 The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City and retire, I reached out about the job.
Obviously, I am still working with JB and not in the middle of the country. While it didn’t work out the way I hoped though, Jay and I stayed in touch and remain friendly.
I wanted to feature him this season in our Meet the Market Managers columns, presented by Point-to-Point Marketing, because of that monumental shift he and his building are dealing with right now.
In this conversation, we discuss what happens in the moments after Baker made his announcement, how this political spending season could be different than in the past, and why his stations are have never had trouble finding good people when there is an opening.
Demetri Ravanos: The Sports Animal is experiencing its first change in literal decades. So let’s set the staff side for a second. How do you adjust to working with someone new when for so long you knew what you were dealing with? With Chris Baker, you guys had a good relationship that worked for a long time.
Jay Davis: Yeah, we’ve been very lucky here. Chris started with us in the early nineties. I got here in the late eighties, but he was a rock. Not only did he oversee The Sports Animal, but for many of those years, he was an operations manager. So his imprint is on our success here or at least a large part of it. He certainly deserves full credit.
He was great. I loved him as a coworker, but also personally, he’s a personal friend of mine and just a great guy. Enjoying his retirement is well-deserved.
The person who took his place, Robert Mueller, a guy we call ‘Cisco’, had worked for our company also for ten or fifteen years, and then he left us for six years to try some other things that he was wanting to do in the business. But again, he had been around our stations for many, many, many, many years, so he already had built-in credibility with the people on air, our sellers, and our clients.
There were a number of very, very talented candidates that we visited with for that job, as you know. In the end, he made the most sense for it in terms of just being able to come in with knowledge. There was zero learning curve. I mean, he could literally just hit the ground running on all these different fronts. So yeah, we’ve been very fortunate to have what could have been a very difficult transition be a pretty easy one.
DR: So one of the things that you and I talked about during that time was sort of the parochialism or perceived parochialism of Oklahoma City. Is Robert’s experience, not just in Cumulus but in a market like this one, a necessary thing? Does that familiarity and knowledge translate in the decisions a programmer makes in parochial market?
JD: Obviously, if somebody knows the market, it helps and he does know the market, our stations, our personalities, and our presentation. The Sports Animal is such a big radio station in town. It could have been an earthquake with Chris leaving. Instead, it’s just been more just of a transition. And it’s been a good one. We were lucky.
DR: So that day that it becomes public that Chris is going to retire and it’s found out in the building, are the air and sales staffs immediately coming to you with their ideas of what sort of knowledge or qualities the next PD needs to have?
JD: Chris was obviously so well-liked inside the building. I was happy for him. There’s no doubt about that. As you would imagine though, it was a two-fold thing.
It’s just like, “Oh, what the hell are we going to do? What’s that next?” Because he’s such a mainstay and a big part of what we do and all of our decision-making. Of course, there was an anxiety that came along with that.
The timing was something else. Cisco had been reaching out to me in the months prior to that just to say “hey, if you ever have something in Oklahoma City…” He was just looking to come back home. We just got lucky in terms of the timing of it all.
I was ready to tell people “Hey, listen, don’t worry, guys, we got to plan here. We’re not in as big of trouble as you might think.” We didn’t have that interim for too long where we had to worry or have client fears or sales fears or on-air staff fears. We were able to quickly soothe that tension.
DR: So it’s 2022 and one of the issues that I think every radio group around the country is talking about this year is obviously political spending. And I wonder, with you guys being in a pretty solidly red state, how does that affect spending in a state with so many assumed victories? Do you see less of a windfall than you could somewhere that is more competitive during these years?
JD: Oh, there’s probably some truth in that, but you know, at the same time, there’s still issue ads that are that could be meaningful. Listen, no one is counting it in the bank anymore. We’ve seen in the last two or three years, what you thought might have happened politically doesn’t happen.
We’re just now kind of getting into some of those ads. We’re receiving some dollars on the political front and expect to get more. So no, I don’t think so. But again, it’s such a crazy situation now. I mean, people are going to really want to spend to make sure their person wins because you can’t ever count on it.
DR: What about the way the changing media landscape affects that spending? With the pandemic, suddenly Netflix and Hulu and Disney Plus and all of these streaming TV services become every day parts of our lives and not luxuries anymore. Could you foresee more candidates spending on radio because it still has a widespread penetration that maybe traditional TV is losing?
JD: Yeah. I’d like to think that that’s true and that that could happen, and I do think you’ll see a little bit of a shift that way. Television has obviously been the traditional way that they have gone about it, but as it continues to be challenged in that way you mentioned, it certainly leaves it open for radio to maybe get a little bit better share than we’ve had in the past, especially with the stronger, more powerful, wider-reaching signals that that that would be able to provide both a frequency and a reach.
You know, in a candidate’s mind, it will just kind of come down to cost to some degree. I think people are going to continue to do TV no matter what because that’s all they’ve known. But to your point, I do think that we will see a little bit more headed our direction in this cycle, and hopefully in the coming months and years.
DR: So you guys have chosen not to pursue either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State as a play-by-play partner. Why has staying neutral in that way been the right play for The Sports Animal?
JD: Well, you know, those rights fees don’t come cheap. Listen, don’t get me wrong. We’re in the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State business.
We’re the flagship station for the Oklahoma City Thunder. So, you know, having both of those might be a hard thing to pull off just due to the commitments that come along with them.
Even if we’re not the rights partner per se for OU or Oklahoma State, we certainly are in the business of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football. That’s what we do most on air. It’s something that I guess could always be considered whenever those rights come up, but they are expensive and you do have to weigh the value against the cost and make your decisions from there.
DR: In the sports format, Cumulus seems to have a lot of stations in markets your size and in your situation that are doing very, very well. There’s JOX in Birmingham and The Zone in Nashville. I mean, these non-major market stations where sports fandom traditionally was built on college sports and now pro sports is a relatively new thing.
Do you look at any of those stations as either a role model or a partner, someone that you want to be part of an information-sharing relationship with to help The Sports Animal evolve and grow?
JD: We do, yeah. I’ve had conversations with both Birmingham and Knoxville. Even The Ticket down in Dallas is a brand we look to, although they’re obviously a monster. But you know, we’re kind of a monster in our town.
We’re open to any and every idea that our infrastructure gives us access to obviously. We’re encouraged to reach out to other markets if they’re doing some things that we need to be doing. They’ve reached out to us as well. We are very lucky to have some very, very good support stations in our community of stations.
DR: How are you going about recruiting for jobs that are not on-air jobs right now? Sales, promotion, whatever? What is the best way for the broadcast business to reach young jobseekers?
JD: Well, again, I’ve been at these radio stations since 1989, and we’ve got very strong, very well-branded radio stations in the market. The Sports Animal is just omnipresent in Oklahoma City. The Cat is a heritage rocker that is just awesome. It is a great, great radio station and has been around for 45 years.
We get our share of people just wanting to put their foot in the door on-air, on the sales side, just to get into radio period. We haven’t seen, with the obvious exception of COVID, how that affected everybody else. In terms of calls or resumes we stay pretty in demand. We’re just lucky that way.
We’ve had these great radio stations for a long time and we’ve kept our top talent on the air. So we’ve been very consistent with what our presentation sounds like, looks like, etc. I think people see it as destination employment.
DR: I was thinking about this watching the NBA Finals last night. Crypto companies, whether it’s coins or exchanges, are spending a lot right now in terms of sports marketing, both on TV and live sponsorships. How about radio? Is that sector seeing growth for you?
JD: Well, we have not seen that yet. Now, that may come to Oklahoma later than it might come to New York or L.A. or someplace larger. I’m not sure. But we have not yet seen that. But again, this business is growing and expanding in so many different ways with, you know, with the advent of how important digital is becoming into our sales process and into what we’re doing for our clients. So, you know, any of these things, such as what you’re talking about or I’m sure destined to be here sooner than later.
Meet the Market Managers: Steve Wexler, Good Karma Brands Milwaukee
“I think the good programmers have a vision and they have a sense of the brand, but they also want to get better all the time. Hopefully, I help them do that.”
It took Steve Wexler a long time to find the right man for the job when he was looking for a new PD for WTMJ and ESPN Milwaukee. He was in no hurry, and why should he be? The guy has as strong of a programming background as anyone.
Wexler came up in the radio business through the programming side of things. Now, he is the market manager for Good Karma Brands’ Milwaukee stations. He has experienced plenty of wins and a few losses too in one of the country’s most competitive sports radio markets.
In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Steve and I talk about losing the Packers, serving advertising categories that have been forever transformed by the pandemic, what matters most in a station’s digital offerings, and so much more. Enjoy!
Demetri Ravanos: I want to ask you about your approach to working with programmers. Obviously that is how you came up in the business. So how do you balance sharing your own knowledge with letting the person you have hired now conceptualize and execute their own vision for a station?
Steve Wexler: Great question. I mean, I guess the quick answer is when I was a programmer, I know that the best dynamic I had with a general manager was somebody that could make me better, not to steer the car necessarily, but to make me better, which might mean ideas, it might mean critique, it might mean praise.
I hope what I’ve done over the years since I came up through the programing ranks is help the programmers around me think critically, evaluate programming, and provide ideas. I’ve worked pretty hard not to grab the wheel because when I was a young PD, I didn’t really want somebody grabbing the wheel, but I sure as heck wanted help driving.
I think the good programmers have a vision and they have a sense of the brand, but they also want to get better all the time. Hopefully, I help them do that.
DR: Because that leap from programing to sitting in the big chair is becoming more common, did you have guys reach out to you from other markets to ask about what the experience was and what it is like to go from solely worrying about programming to overseeing an entire building?
SW: Yeah, I’ve had the chance to talk about that with people at some of the industry conferences. I will tell you that I think that “big chair,” as you call it, has less to do with whether you came up through programing or sales or marketing or whatever. I think it has more to do with whether you’ve got a sense of strategy and at the end of the day, whether or not you’re a leader. There are great leaders in programming. There are great leaders in sales. There are leaders all over our organizations. Really good companies start there and develop and groom leaders who understand our business and aren’t too worried whether they came up as programmers or sales managers.
DR: So as a sports radio market, Milwaukee has a lot of options. Let’s put programming to the side for a second. In terms of standing out with clients, with partners, what is the strategy to make sure that when your sellers are on the streets, they can differentiate or they can tell people what makes ESPN 94.5 different from the Audacy and iHeart brands in the sports radio space locally?
SW: You know, it’s interesting. We don’t spend too much time in our company worrying about or thinking about the other sports brands. We have a ton of respect for them.
Our view is that the boats all rise with the high tide. So we like a very robust, active, successful sports marketplace. We think that’s good for everybody. And it’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever spent less time really thinking about my, “competition.”
We know they’re there. We’re aware of things that they’re doing, but our view is that if we overdeliver for our partners, if we give them tremendous value, if we give them great ideas, if we execute and activate seamlessly and flawlessly, then we know we’re going to be successful. So we really don’t spend time comparing ourselves to the others, not out of arrogance, but more out of a real sense of partnership with our advertisers.
DR: Speaking of those advertising partners, I am guessing it is no coincidence that WTMJ and ESPN 94.5 fit together like puzzle pieces when it comes to sports programming. Is that how you have sellers talking about what you can offer new clients?
SW: Well, we definitely like the fact that there’s so much we can offer in our portfolio. I mean, we have hospitality. We have the Tundra Trio, which are homes that we own and operate up in Green Bay. We offer our ESPN Digital exclusive products, our news talk on WTMJ, our play-by-play with the Bucks, Brewers, and Marquette. Of course, we have the talent that’s on these stations that all do the endorsements.
So yeah, I mean, we definitely have a market that is designed strategically to do what you just described, which is to really take partners’ needs and solve them in a big way.
It is our belief that to differentiate today, you better have content that is not easily replicated given the amount of choices people have. I mean, you were talking about competition a moment ago. The competition is worldwide, right? So we have an intensely local focus, a real laser focus on making sure that partners who we work with hopefully come away with such a great experience that they can’t imagine going anywhere else.
DR: Unfortunately, I do have to ask you about the Packers play-by-play deal. Would you mind telling me a little bit about the conversations you were having and the strategizing you did that moment you realized that the door was closed and that the team would not be back on WTMJ? How quickly did you start thinking about what this meant from both a ratings and revenue standpoint?
SW: Look, we’re huge Packers fans and we have been since 1929. We are today. We always will be. And quite frankly, we’re going to be doing some amazing programming around the team this year on WTMJ and on ESPN and with our hospitality at the Tundra Trio. All I would tell you is that the model changed from us running the network a couple of years ago to the Packers, obviously well within their rights, running it themselves.
Our view is that we love sports. We love all of it. We’re obviously going to be all about the green and gold this year. I think at the end of the day, we have to do what’s right for our partners and for our business and frankly, for our teammates. I like to say they lost us, not we lost them because, you know, the big signal is obviously going to be an issue. They’re going to do just fine, and the folks at iHeart will take good care of the franchise. And we’re going to be there with amazing programing, including Brett Favre. We just signed him to an exclusive deal with us for this coming season that we’re very excited about.
DR: So I want to talk to you about another station in your building, 101.7 The Truth. When you launch a format like that, what did you need to learn or maybe understand better before you could properly support that staff as the leader in the building?
SW: Yeah, what a great story that is. I’ve launched a lot of formats over the years in the different stations I’ve been involved in. This one was definitely the most unique for a number of reasons. One is we were right smack dab in the middle of the pandemic lockdown. So, you know, business conditions in the markets were not great. People really weren’t innovating and creating and building. At that time, we were all just sort of holding on for dear life.
We’re very fortunate to have a founder and CEO (Craig Karmazin) who really doesn’t play from a position of defense. He plays from offense and “what’s the best thing for the company long-term?”.
He came to me a couple of days after the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis and said “Wex, shouldn’t there be a really well-resourced, local Black talk station in Milwaukee? There’s some different choices here, but there’s nothing that’s really local that has outreach, that’s resourced to really reflect the community.” And I said, “Well, I know people have tried it over the years.” And he said, “Well, look, we’re a locally owned company. We believe in being here in the long term. Why don’t we do that?”
I’m thinking, okay, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, right? And I’ve never built a Black talk station from scratch.
I said, “Well Craig, we’re going to need to start with a staff. We’re going to have to really get the people who can do this,” because I was concerned, if you do it wrong, it could be worse than not doing it at all. I didn’t want to come up with a poor version of this.
I was fortunate to be able to find an African-American general manager, Cherie Harris, and program director, Kyle Wallace. We went and found talent that we had to recruit either virtually or off-campus.
We didn’t even have a signal! I mean, I said to Craig, “You know, one problem is we don’t have a place to put this”.
DR: It’s just a small problem, right?
SW: Small, a small problem.
Craig said, “Oh, well, I’ll figure that out.” And of course, a couple of weeks later he says, okay, I got a signal. So, you know, we went and built a logo and a brand and we got the team together.
I remember the meeting where we were deciding on the name of the station and the team said, “we want to call it The Truth because we want this to be raw. We want it to be authentic. We want it to be real. Let’s call it the truth.” And I said, “Guys, we can do that, but we’ve got to be careful because that’s a big word. You know, we’re setting ourselves up here with ‘The Truth'”. And they said, “Well, it’s our truth and it’s going to be real and it’s going to be honest.” So we went with it.
That was, gosh, a year and five months now. And the station has grown. It’s winning significant awards locally and statewide and nationally. The business is really starting to gain traction. I couldn’t be more proud of that team and what we built from very, very humble beginnings. We didn’t have a signal, we just had an idea. And here, a year and a half later, we’ve got a bona fide, important voice in our community.
DR: We talk all the time on our site about the lack of diversity in leadership in sports radio. I think you could probably say the same for news talk. Certainly, you want The Truth to be able to continue to serve the Black community in Milwaukee, but I wonder if you’ve had conversations with Ryan Maguire and others in the company about maybe using that station as the incubator to then create that diversity in those other formats.
SW: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, we saw not only the opportunity to build that Truth brand, but we really did feel it was important to have a diverse workforce in our building. I’ll give you a great example. Not this season but the year prior, the Milwaukee Bucks go to the NBA Finals. We have a huge championship parade in Milwaukee. Our team, and I’m not sure we would have thought of this a couple of years ago, our team got together and put together a three-station championship parade, triple-cast. We mashed up The Truth talent, the ESPN talent, the WTMJ talent.
So imagine this. You’ve got a program where we’re providing live coverage of the championship parade for the Milwaukee Bucks, and you’ve got the morning team from the Black talk station on the air with the ESPN team on the air with the WTMJ team all at different locations around the city. I will tell you, it was one of the most amazing days that I’ve been part of. Not only did I think we did a really great job and captured the day, but you heard voices you would not normally have heard and perspectives that you normally would not have heard.
Remember when the Milwaukee Bucks wouldn’t come out of the locker room? That one night after the Kenosha police shooting? The perspectives we were able to share were just different from what we normally would have had.
The Truth team, it is not uncommon to hear them on WTMJ. It’s not uncommon now to hear the WTMJ team now on The Truth, which is really fascinating. So I love the fact that we can now, you know, whatever you want to call it, cross-pollinate, inform each other. I think we’re all better for hearing more diverse points of view and we’ve certainly created that.
DR: So I want to ask you about something that your colleague, Sam Pines, has said to me many times. Whenever we talk about ratings and the Good Karma stations, he’s very fond of saying that “a ratings point never bought a cheeseburger,” right? It’s something I’ve heard other Good Karma market managers repeat too. But there’s a difference for you. You guys in Milwaukee do use ratings. I wonder if that changes the standard for what success is at your cluster versus the rest of the company?
SW: You’re talking to a guy who came out of a more traditional world, right? I ran a radio group for E.W. Scripps, a large, publicly-traded company. Things like ratings and being more attuned to cost per point was definitely part of how I grew up in the business.
I do look at the ratings. I’m aware of them. I want to know, at least based on Nielsen’s methodology, you know, whether I’m growing or whether we’re stalling. I’m with Sam though. Our partners do not call me and ask me, “hey, what are the ratings at 3:00 in the afternoon?”. They’ll call and say, “Hey, do you guys have any ideas to help me grow my business or help me solve the problem or help me build my brand?”. And if I could do that and do that really well utilizing our digital broadcast and event assets, I don’t care what the rating was in the afternoon.
You know, I’m a fan of being smart about the market and being well-informed and knowing what the ratings maybe are telling me in terms of which way the wind is blowing, but we don’t rely on them to make our strategic decisions about the things we’re going to do.
DR: So I want to ask you about your advertising partners because a lot of businesses have changed with the pandemic. I wonder from an advertising standpoint, are there any sectors that you see that seem to be changed forever, business categories that you’ve had to completely change your strategy?
SW: I would say the health sector for sure. Not only was there a greater need that is continued, but I think for them that sense of information and helping the public just be smarter was a change that we saw during the pandemic that has continued. You know, what they tell us is “help us inform as opposed to try to sell you a colonoscopy.”
I think this plays to audio’s specialty. I mean, if we’re able to provide information, some of the other categories that are similar are like finance will see the benefits of that model. We’re in times right now where there’s a lot of head-scratching about savings and retirement coming out of the pandemic, especially right now with inflation and the stock market. A lot of our partners are saying, can you help us inform the market and help people be smarter about their money and their health? So I think any partner, any advertising category where information is power is definitely a change we’ve seen and stations like ours are in a perfect position to take advantage of that.
DR: So along the lines of things changing with the pandemic, obviously more and more listening has moved to streaming in the last two years than ever before. Have given any thought to what a station’s app needs to be now? Are there things that we can all be doing better or services that make sense to provide beyond just on-demand listening?
SW: I think I would say that there are always features and I guess other ways to engage that might be good. But I will tell you, sometimes we’re so quick to decorate the tree. I think it was A Charlie Brown Christmas where he’s got a little tree and he puts all those ornaments on it and the thing falls all over.
Early on, I think we all were like, “oh, we can have like instant engagement, we can have polls and we can create fireworks when you hit that button.” And what we’ve noticed is that when you make it really easy, it pays off. First of all, let’s assume the content is compelling and good. I’ve said for a long time, I worry to some degree that we talk a lot about the technology, as well we should, but if we’re not focused on the content, I kind of think the technology might not matter.
You know, a lot of us, years ago, realized that with ad insertion, I think the accountants must have come up with that idea, not the broadcasters in the room. The listening experience, at least in my world, was not very good. You know, shows would get joined in progress and you’d miss 20 seconds because we had these clunky ad insertions.
If I’ve got an hour, I’d rather spend 50 minutes of that on making sure our content is as great as it can be, and we’ll spend the last 10 minutes on making sure it is a great listening experience for the fan.