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.
An Education on Audience Development
“I think back to the days when cable was going to kill local television. I still watch my local television station. And I believe that there is no way podcasting or audio consumption on digital only is going to kill radio.”
Developing a great brand that becomes important to an audience and generates ratings involves a few key factors. First, great talent have to be in place. If your brand doesn’t have people in front of the camera or behind the mic who others want to listen to, watch, and spend time with, the rest won’t matter. Personalities with an ability to help an audience laugh and learn while coming across as likeable and interesting are vital.
The next part of the equation involves content choices. Discussing what you had for lunch may sound like an awful content selection but if a gifted storyteller can take that bland piece of content and turn it into something memorable, it could be your brand’s best segment of the day. It could also be your worst. This applies to sports talk too. A host on the air can build content around a team or player that’s most important to listeners but if all they do is state the obvious, it won’t be enough to make a mark. On the other hand, a talent who’s plugged in, processes information differently, and has something to say that makes you think, feel, and react is entirely different. Both types of hosts may have done the right thing focusing their material on the subjects that are supposed to resonate with those listening or watching, but if the opinion and stories told add nothing new, the topic choice alone isn’t enough.
Which leads us to one of radio’s biggest challenges – subjectivity. What one programmer considers spectacular, another may find uninteresting. A talent dubbed as a ‘game changer’ by one executive may be seen as ‘can’t be hired’ by another. One PD may value guests and calls, another wants them nowhere near their airwaves. It’s no different in pro sports too. Coaches, scouts and executives have looked stupid and brilliant picking players who others thought were or weren’t worth investing in.
But building and satisfying an audience depends on much more than just hiring a talented host. You’ve got to feature the right content, market your brand and personalities, connect on multiple platforms, study to learn where your audience is located and what causes them to tune in or out. The deeper you understand your audience and their preferences, the better your chances of reaching them, marketing to them, putting your advertising partners on their radar, and ultimately creating success.
To get a better perspective on the challenges of audience development, and how brands and listening habits were affected by the pandemic, I reached out to my friends at Point to Point Marketing. Their support helped us create the Meet The Market Managers series, which hopefully you read. If not, click here to learn about some of the industry’s top leaders. Given that they specialize in marketing, research, and brand/audience development, their insights should be helpful to programmers and GM’s who are trying to figure out how to better serve their fans and partners. Enjoy.
- Tim Bronsil – President
- Tim Satterfield – VP, Digital
- Susan Bacich – VP Strategy and Audience Insights
Jason Barrett: Before we dive into some of the opportunities and challenges associated with audience development, how did you get started your company?
Tim Bronsil: It started 23 years ago. Mark Heiden, who previously ran Eagle Marketing in Colorado, and Rick Torcasso, who was in charge of programming for Alliance and was kind of the brains behind the young Country format, they became partners. It began with a handful of clients. Now we work in almost all of the PPM markets. I came on board 16 years ago. Susan has been with us for 10 years, and Tim has been involved now for 7 years. The three of us are the face of the company as it relates to our clients. We’re the ones that strategize with them, come up with the different game plans, and then execute it. We have a team of nearly a dozen people that work for us and help with different things such as design, digital, research, etc. but the three of us are who work closest with the client.
JB: We partnered recently on the Meet The Market Manager’s series. There were a lot of different companies and business leaders featured over a 15 week period. What stood out to you from those conversations?
TB: The biggest takeaways for me from the Meet The Market Managers series were learning how business prior to Covid was different, and required adjusting to the present conditions. Brands needed to find ways to connect with their audience, serve their advertisers, and technologically get their talent to continue engaging with their audience whether it was done remotely or in studio. To hear each of these company leaders share how they handled pandemic marketing, programming, and sales was probably the biggest benefit for me.
Susan Bacich: For me, it was learning about the shift in how people are listening. I came to Point to Point from working in radio where you have your morning show and afternoon show as the staples of the radio station. Middays and evenings are obviously important too, but the way the shifting of listening has changed during the last fifteen months was really a big takeaway. The other item that caught my attention was discovering what radio stations and other audio companies are taking away from how listeners consume their audio, when they’re consuming it, and where they’re doing so. All of that has changed, and that stood out.
Tim Satterfield: One of the best things I think is that they now have a higher perception of the value of the digital connection. When the pandemic hit and everybody went to a Zoom call, and the personalities were encouraged to stay in contact with their existing audience thru digital channels, whether thru Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. I just think it sealed the deal on their perception of the value of that contact point being digital. The good part for us obviously is that that’s our conduit on social bounce, so I think anyone who had questions about its value or its ability to work and succeed at getting the message in front of those people, I think that was washed away during the pandemic, if there were any of those.
JB: When it comes to developing and connecting with an audience, technology has changed so much about it. In the past it was a combination of radio, print and TV, now you have digital, which can be split into a number of different directions, plus you have email, direct mail, and other means of reaching fans. Is there one medium you value more than others when you’re working on behalf of a radio brand? How do each of you feel about that?
TB: The big thing with any marketing campaign that you’re going to deploy is you need to recognize the relative advantage that you’re trying to display. Once you have that nailed, then you can decide upon the tactics you’re going to use. Many stations will market before they’ve identified what that relative advantage is. So once we’ve done that, the best way we see to give a full three hundred and sixty degree view of that relative advantage is thru social media marketing. We can put up twenty, thirty or forty five second videos of talent, which showcases their humor, expertise, and other unique traits. That video can then live in the ecosystem with paid dollars behind it for a few days. Then we put up another piece of content that once again reinforces that relative advantage. Social gives you the opportunity to drill down to the demographic and key areas that matter, and that is the same whether it’s for broadcast radio or podcasting. We can find that audience and deliver that message on an ongoing basis very cost effectively.
TS: It just mirrors the move to digital marketing that you’ve seen across all brands and verticals. Radio shouldn’t be any different in that it’s very cost effective, very targetable, we can find the audience, and then when you take it and add it as part of a comprehensive marketing plan with the other products we have, we’ve seen that it can be extremely successful.
JB: How does age factor into this because radio and TV tend to skew older, digital younger. Are you able to still see great recall from older audiences on social and younger people on radio?
TS: The answer is yes. In fact, we’ve recently seen some results with people 55-64+ with podcast marketing because that demographic has the time, they’re interested depending on the product and the affinity it has. Those folks are on Facebook where you can generate a lot of click thru’s where that’s the campaign objective. On the radio side, it depends on the brand and what their target is. But if it’s 18-34 and they say ‘nobody is on Facebook’, that’s incorrect. We can see the results. They still have a high level of profiles. They’re on Snapchat, Instagram, and they look at stories, but they’re not off of Facebook, they still sample it. When you take the 18-34’s and the amount of frequency they have with their devices, it still makes them easy to find. Everything in between, really easy.
SB: One thing to add, in the social world it’s not just about casting a wide net. The nice thing about social and any of the marketing tactics we deploy on behalf of our clients is that we use it to grow recognition with compatible listeners. We’re not just throwing that wide net out, we’re looking for those people who are most likely to listen to your product. Whether that’s to your radio station or your podcasts or social media, we’re looking for those people who are most likely to consume your content. And in doing that, we’re helping to reinforce the brand’s position with that person who we’ve reached. Different tactics allow us to grow that audience in different ways.
JB: When it comes to sports fans, they’re very passionate and the platforms they use and the way they use them are very different. For instance, my company expanded into news in September, and I learned quickly that the majority of brands and talent on news radio are conservative. They have less trust in big tech and aren’t as enthusiastic to share content and engage on social media as sports radio folks are. Sports fans love to have conversations and stay informed on Twitter, whereas news is a different deal. When you’re targeting a sports fan on behalf of a client or just doing your own research to figure out what people want, what are some things you’ve noticed that sports fans respond best to?
TB: I would say that it’s not just the specific knowledge about a certain sport or team. You have that base knowledge but then there are other things around it that are about your lifestyle as a sports fan. Showcasing that from a talent standpoint works. It’s important to give that three hundred and sixty degree view of the show and the personalities not just highlight how you might be an expert at a particular thing. Just because you live in a particular market doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a fan of the local team. People move places all the time. Owning a particular team can be a challenge so we try to focus on showcasing the whole part of the show.
JB: I want to ask each of you about the challenges of doing research and marketing during the pandemic. In 2019 we had a pretty good read on where people were, what was growing, what wasn’t, but then 2020 hit and everything changed due to uncontrollable circumstances. That obviously can create some challenges in the way you might go about reaching people. How did you guys pivot in the way you helped brands market themselves and gather information to be able to reach their audience?
TB: Everyone had a cell phone in their hand in mid-March of 2020 and they were constantly checking it. Our marketing is delivering to mobile devices 100%. Wherever they are Jason, either in the car, at the office, in the backyard, by delivering to that device with an immediate call to action we saw great success and engagement rates pick up in the second quarter of last year. Because we had this platform ready to go, brands were still able to reach their audiences even if they were displaced from their normal commuting patterns.
TS: We saw the engagement rates and connection with the audience go up not down because of the pandemic. People were home, they had their device, they were interested in what was going on outside not inside because they were stuck, so we saw everything pick up. The pandemic I believe helped enhance the perception of the value of the digital marketing that we do. The change from the pandemic may have been the use, but it was also the perception of the value.
SB: What’s interesting is that we’re now doing more at work targeting but during the pandemic it was really important to catch them at home. We had their complete attention because they couldn’t go anywhere. Anything coming in from the outside world was great. If we were able to get into those homes and deliver messages that made them excited, made them interested, made them want to look twice, that’s what our goal was, and that’s what we focused on.
JB: You guys work with multiple formats so I’m curious if we went back to March-May of last year, music didn’t stop, news became really important, but sports shut down. When you’re working with sports brands at that time and there’s no new content being created in the sports world, where do you shift a brand’s marketing focus?
TB: In April and May brands started creating original content. All throughout that time there were a lot of sports stories out there – when will sports return, what will open up in the fall, what type of capacity will there be, the hope of sports is where we placed our focus.
JB: Would it be fair to say that the pandemic helped emphasize how important it is for brands to feature sports media personalities not just talent with an ability to create topics built from last night’s events?
SB: Anyone can deliver the news line, the stat, but it’s how you deliver it that counts. You saw a lot of programmers, producers, and personalities, step up their game because they had to. They had to literally reach out and grab that audience and create a reason for people to connect with them. A lot of people grew during that time period especially the hosts.
JB: As a former PD, the one part that I found fascinating was that you can create a strategy, tell talent what to talk more or less about, and image a brand around a team or teams, and that all sounds great, but when sports goes dark and there’s no live events taking place, you better have great personalities or you’re not going to retain an audience. The PD isn’t going to have the answer when an unprecedented event like a pandemic rocks the world and cancels all of sports. There’s no playbook available that says ‘this works, this doesn’t’. Imagine a music radio station staffed by DJ’s who show up one day and have no songs to play. That’s what sports talent dealt with, and the brands that featured on-air talent who were more important than the content, essentially the destination and reason listeners show up, did well. Those dependent on last night’s game, either struggled or wished they could use vacation time.
TS: Connection is key and personalities always make the difference.
SB: What you’re describing are stations and personalities who lost their brand. But they didn’t have to lose their brand position. They could’ve retained their position in the market. That’s what we worked on with our clients. Reinforcing what the brand is to the audience, and retaining that recognition is what we wanted to keep intact whether people were listening live to a show or thru podcasts.
JB: You mentioned podcasting which is one area of the business that many are excited about. Digital listening continues to increase, revenues are climbing, and radio in recent years hasn’t been growing so that factors into why so many are bullish on this space. When you’re studying audience behavior and the way it’s changing, from what you’ve seen so far, what are your takeaways? Is radio making the right call putting a heavier focus on podcasting based on where things are projected to go in the next few years or are we rushing towards it simply because it’s growing and other parts of the industry have been a little flat?
TS: I think it’s additive. Every time we do this, where we’re looking at the new shiny object, I think back to the days when cable was going to kill local television. I still watch my local television station. And I believe that there is no way podcasting or audio consumption on digital only is going to kill radio. Will it have to adjust? Will the audience change? We’ve seen some research that shows it’s having an impact in terms of frequency and how many tune ins, but it’s not going away. A good company with good margins is still going to see good cash flow using good ole fashioned radio to deliver a product to an audience. I know the public companies like to see growth. I see this as an opportunity that helps not hurts in the long term.
SB: I worked for a small company a while ago and they had this legend and it was the original owner talked to Howard Hughes. He was a bellhop at a hotel and he asked Howard ‘How do I provide for my family? What’s the next thing for me to get into?’ Howard told him ‘Buy FM transmitters’. So this bellhop started buying FM signals, and everyone laughed at him, but soon he was the one laughing all the way to the bank. It took some time and changes in formats and programming between AM and FM, but it reminds us that you never know what’s going to happen. It’s wise to move forward and to start going into those digital directions because you don’t know what is going to take off. If we were having this conversation twenty months ago, we wouldn’t have been talking about a pandemic and people’s listening habits changing wildly in such a short period of time but here we are.
TS: We can see the growth in podcasting. It’s genuine and it’s real. We’re out there to help those who have podcasts and want to have significant audience share do just that. We’ve seen it as a product extension if you will that we think is going to pay off for us kind of like FM transmitters paid off for the bellhop.
JB: So you take the podcast audience, the radio audience, the people a brand reaches thru their email newsletter, the video consumption on social media, in some cases brands even have TV simulcasts, and you add it all up and it’s pretty significant. But then the issue becomes, radio has all of this reach and audience, but isn’t getting full credit for it. That’s frustrating inside the building because you can see the brand’s impact but buyers are still making decisions based on certain criteria and it doesn’t always include the things you do well at that go uncredited. For you guys, doesn’t it in some ways become not just about marketing to develop audiences but also educating advertisers on the power of a brand and why they should be associating with it?
TB: Yes. The first step is to remind the advertisers of how big the brands are and show them that reach and engagement. We had clients that used videos of their air talent and then sold a sponsorship of that video. The exposure that that brand received was thru the roof and they saw the power of not only having a mention on the air but also being involved in social. Taking some chances and involving your client in those ways, maybe at no-cost in the beginning, gives you the opportunity to show them down the road when you go and ask for that order. The other part which was interesting, Sam Pines in Cleveland, what he’s doing with the Land on Demand, an on-demand service, that can also bridge some of that where you’re not picking up some of the advertising dollars but that subscription is an innovative way to leverage that content across other platforms.
JB: I want to wrap up by asking each of you to reflect on last year and the challenge of helping brands while the industry dealt with pain caused by the pandemic. As someone who helps stations myself, I saw how it started bad, but fortunately turned around. During that time though, it has to be hard when the strategies you’ve used that you know work have to be quickly adjusted because people’s habits are rapidly changing. Then there’s the reality that some brands who need your help are navigating financial setbacks and are going to pause business, even though you can argue that there’s no more important time to study audience behavior and be in front of people. When you’re going thru something like that, how do you keep your business relationships strong and remind folks of the importance of sticking with a plan and continuing to market to their audience and do research?
TB: In normal times Jason, it is reminding them that ongoing communication with an audience is important because there are so many other audio choices out there. We have to remind them of that unduplicated content and why they need to come to your brand on a regular basis. It’s even more important now because we know listening patterns have changed since the pandemic to go and remind the audience of that. We need to make sure our radio brands are doing this while people return to the roads, return to work, as they return to their normal commuting patterns. Failure to do something is really not an option.
SB: I want to touch on one thing you mentioned Jason about the challenge of dealing with the realities of what everyone was dealing with last year. There were times when our clients told us ‘we’re with you but we’re going to have to hit the pause button because we don’t know what’s going on.’ That was understandable. If I were in their shoes I’d have probably done the same thing. But just because they paused didn’t mean our communication with the client stopped. If anything, our communication with the client picked up. We were coming up with ideas for them to help them with their advertisers and connecting with their audiences. We worked with them on brainstorming to try and help them create solutions to overcome a difficult period. For us, keeping those relationships intact was important.
TS: And Jason, the result of that is that the relationships and communication that we’ve had with these companies and individuals for literally decades, led to them stopping the pause. To their credit, knowing that they needed to get back in front of the audience to get that share back, and taking into account the relationship history and all of that groundwork that we did to help them, paid off in bringing those companies back to a marketing opportunity sooner which was great for both them and us.
Chris Wallace Criticizes Former President Donald Trump
“[The Trump White House] was every man and woman for themselves. When they went on the Sunday shows, they were appealing to an audience of one, because President Trump watched,” Wallace said.
Fox News host Chris Wallace ripped former President Donald Trump in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter recently. Wallace said when he was covering the Trump administration there was a lot of misinformation coming from The White House.
“[The Trump White House] was every man and woman for themselves. When they went on the Sunday shows, they were appealing to an audience of one, because President Trump watched,” Wallace said. “So, when somebody went on, oftentimes there was a debate going on inside the administration, and they were trying to make their case more to the president, who was watching at home, than to the viewers.
Wallace, whose Fox News Sunday program turned 25 on Sunday, has been widely criticized by conservative viewers for some of his reporting when it comes to the way he covers the Republican party. Many point to the way he moderated one of the presidential debates last year.
“If you are a reporter covering the White House, there is nothing better than if there are tensions inside the White House, and they are arguing it out in the public,” said Wallace.
Wallace said he thinks the format is just as important as ever, even with consumers mostly getting their news through social media throughout the day.
“It’s still an important platform for a new administration, or any administration, and the opposition, to get their points out,” said Wallace.
Bo Snerdley to Get His Own Podcast
“The 12-episode series will detail legendary radio host Rush Limbaugh’s award-winning, 30-plus year career in radio that revitalized the spoken-word format and provided a platform for him to develop and lead modern conservatism in America,” said Golden.
The syndication company that distributes the Rush Limbaugh Show is launching a new podcast narrated by his longtime call screener James Golden, a.k.a., Bo Snerdley. Premiere Networks announced a 12-episode series that will highlight Limbaugh’s brilliant career.
Limbaugh lost his battle with stage 4 lung cancer on Feb 17.
“The 12-episode series will detail legendary radio host Rush Limbaugh’s award-winning, 30-plus year career in radio that revitalized the spoken-word format and provided a platform for him to develop and lead modern conservatism in America,” said Golden.
The podcast will feature never-before-heard stories shared by colleagues, friends and family. His popularity as a right-wing radio host is still drawing more than 15 million listeners weekly.
“Those who knew Rush best will provide an insider’s look at his life and career, providing a true celebration and tribute to the greatest talk radio host of all time,” Golden said. “I want to thank Premiere Networks and the EIB Network for allowing me this profound opportunity.”