TALKERS Three-Part Special Feature
The Vision of Envision: The Rise of Radio Syndication Entrepreneur Danno Wolkoff and an Emerging Independent Powerhouse
By Jeff McKay
Special features Correspondent
NEW YORK — Since he ventured out on his own and started what has become not only a highly successful syndication company, but one that can truly serve the needs of both the largest and even the smallest radio station, Danno Wolkoff has known that he cannot simply rest on his laurels. Wolkoff will be the first to admit that his company, in order to be and remain successful, must change with radio’s changing times from how companies do business and manage their own businesses, to how companies must do more with less, and the ever-changing technology that could cost a company listeners and their survival.
Envision Networks has changed with the changing times in radio, something Wolkoff identifies as being driven by technology which is now the catalyst for these changes and placing traditional radio at a crossroads.
“The only thing constant in radio is change. Every year things seem to change and there are always different trends. Our mission is to find the needs in the marketplace and fill these needs,” says Wolkoff. “The biggest change though in the last 10 years is the technology, the ability to get radio to show up on their phones and internet streaming and the car dashboard which will now open up wide and satellite radio, so now you have AM and FM and satellite and HD channels. Consumers are consuming radio but they’re really consuming the whole medium whether it’s music-based or talk-based or a combination of both. People now have the ability to hear more than just what is in their local marketplace. You have to make a decision about what it is you are trying to serve.”
Wolkoff says sometimes we forget what radio’s importance is, something that can lead to a loss of a station’s identity and has serious implications for terrestrial radio’s future.
“Radio is trying to go after the broader spectrum audience. They want to make sure they are online and streaming because people have to be able to hear us elsewhere. Then they change the way their product sounds on the air. Everyone forgot about what makes radio the important factor is the locality of it – being local,” says Wolkoff.
The big concern Wolkoff has with radio right now is the loss of locality, saying that taking on internet companies like Pandora and Spotify is a losing battle because the battle for locality is one that traditional radio can win.
“Once they start to cut back on the local personalities, they stop talking about the local traffic, the local weather, the local news, then it becomes a jukebox and there’s no way to identify with the station. This is people who live and work and go to events in our community. That’s what radio needs to be doing. I find it hard to believe you can out-program or out-maneuver a Pandora in terms of music,” says Wolkoff. “I find it hard to believe a Pandora or Spotify can out-maneuver someone’s personal iPod. The biggest problem radio has right now is focus.”
“Radio is Beyond Radio Now”
Companies today must roll and change with the times or they will find themselves falling behind their competition. The same goes for syndication, and Envision has made many changes to adapt in their past 10 years of operation. For Envision today, that means not just serving traditional radio, but providing content for platforms.
“What we create will not just be able to be used on air, it’s also going to able to be used online and on-demand. Anything that we do right now and anything that we do in the future will have to fill those three areas – the on-air, online, and on-demand,” says Wolkoff. “I could see us providing content and services that will not be broadcast over terrestrial airwaves but will be consumed and used online or on an HD channel. As radio begins to find other methods of delivering their product to their users in the local marketplace they will have to look at other platforms to deliver that product. It’s not in lieu of their AM or FM signal – it’s in addition to that signal, and that creates more opportunity for Envision to provide these programs and services.”
The opportunities for Envision include creating products and services for new media, along with the potential for new clients. As Envision embraces new technology and a rapidly changing technology, it will also mean creating new business, and that includes a new look and a name change for the company that started just 10 years ago.
“The biggest change will be the changing of the name of Envision Radio Networks. We’re going to stop using the word ‘radio,’ but I want to make it very clear we are not going to stop servicing radio,” says Wolkoff. “What we’re doing going forward is we’re creating and we’re a content provider. That’s what Envision Networks will be – we’ll be providing content for anyone in media to use, whether it’s a radio station or online stream, or whether it’s some other unknown media that hasn’t been discovered yet. It could be direct delivery to apps. It all depends on the technology. We will create the content, programs, programming services that any type of media can utilize and help to deliver their services to the consumer.”
Wolkoff makes clear that the name change from “Envision Radio Networks” to “Envision Networks” has nothing to do with radio, and his company will continue to offer all of its services to radio. He cites the growth of radio outside of the traditional radio box and the delivery of radio has changed, so that means his company must grow with the changing times, as well as how Envision Networks will deliver their products and services.
“We love radio, radio will continue to exist. I believe radio is just beyond just ‘radio’ now, the whole business, the whole medium itself, it has expanded beyond the scope of just radio and we need to address the needs of that because it’s an important part of how our businesses are going to grow,” says Wolkoff.
Adds Wolkoff, “I don’t have a problem at all with the term ‘radio.’ To me the word, it’s just limiting, and we in radio we should not be limited. We’re not limited now, just to a voice coming out over a box or being broadcast from point A to point B. We all need to be looking at video, and if you’re a radio station you should be thinking about how you can put pictures to what people are hearing. There is a whole other business that could be created and cultivated. It’s not just audio – it’s audio plus visual that will be part of this growing media – and we all need to be part of it.”
Wolkoff says that as radio changes with the changing times, he is in no way taking “radio” out of Envision, and certainly not taking “radio” out of his company’s products and services.
“We’re taking the word ‘radio” out of Envision but we’re not taking radio out of what we do. Our mission is we are building out networks and they are then sold to advertisers. We will have more to aggregate and sell than just on-air spots. There will be more to our networks for people to hear over the air. You will have the ability to reach an audience that is online-only, the ability to reach an audience that is online or watching or doing both strictly on-demand. As the technology changes and the consumer continues to use the newer technology, that on-demand component could become a big deal – and a big money-maker for radio going forward,” says Wolkoff.
Wolkoff also has a critical concern that some radio programmers are leaving behind younger listeners by not catering specifically to their needs, and by doing so a key demographic for radio could be lost.
“Talk to your kids these days. Talk about radio. Ask them to give you a description of what radio is to them. Ask them to explain what radio is to them. You’ll be shocked at what their definition is and what the definition is coming from someone in the ‘35+’ demo,” says Wolkoff. “If you wrote them down and put those definitions side-by-side you’d have to question if they’re both talking about the same medium, because the answer is – they’re not.”
Envision Networks’ new approach was born from the fact younger listeners are migrating away from traditional radio to other sources and delivery systems, whether it’s a desktop computer, smartphone, or other device and not from the transmitter and radio tower. The question for Envision and every other company is how to avoid leaving the younger listener by the side of the road?
Wolkoff believes it’s imperative for radio to cultivate and develop personalities and they must be local and relatable to the younger listener.
“What radio needs to do is to develop those personalities and let them connect with the audience on the local level. There has to be something for the teenagers to go out and listen to, but we’re not always giving them anything to tune into. If there was a local personality that was showing up at every high school and still doing the dances and events and connecting with this audience then they would find them, they’d Google them, they’d find the station to stream them. They may not listen to them in the car but I guarantee you on their phone, they’d follow on Twitter, Snapchat, whatever – there’s going to be a personality to connect with these kids and these kids will connect right back,” says Wokloff who stresses, “Radio hasn’t done a great job of making those personalities who can help be a part of that community that the kids will say to their friends ‘Hey, you got to follow that guy’ and once they do start doing that I think every teenager will come back. It’s the old fashioned way – word of mouth, ‘Did you hear what the guy on the radio said?’ We have to deliver across the broad spectrum and the different media as well. But it all starts with local personalities talking about local events, local topics, local news, weather, sports, and let that information go out in multiple mediums simultaneously, or even on demand. But we have to go back to local to reach the people we’re leaving behind.”
The need to target locally is something that Envision is focused on.
“Our whole objective now is how can we make this local? The easy part is to say we’ll provide you with local news, local sports, and local weather. But the difficult part is to say how are we going to do this and customize this on a market by market basis,” says Wolkoff. “Fortunately, we’ve built out the ability to deliver programming that is customized and being done for each and every station. When it comes to these virtual types of systems there is no repeating it in other markets.”
Wolkoff also makes clear that it’s not just the radio stations that have to get local. It’s also the job of Envision Networks to provide content to the stations that sounds as local as the affiliates do.
“What it comes down to for us is how can we localize this and deliver a product that is going to sound unique and sound like it’s coming from that station in that local area. That’s what we do,” says Wolkoff. “No matter what we’re delivering, it’s going to be able to be used and owned and sound like it’s part of that community and part of that station.”
In terms of that focus, Wolkoff is adamant that local is the key to radio’s success.
“When I talk to my peers we all agree – we’re all making it more difficult than it needs to be. If everyone who has an AM or FM stick would focus in on the local community that they’re really supposed to be targeting and going after, then they will attract listeners and they will attract revenue,” says Wolkoff.
Despite taking the word “radio” out of their company name, Wolkoff believes now more than ever radio can still thrive and be very successful, as long as we don’t forget radio’s past and plan wisely for its future. Building wisely for the future using the new delivery platforms, and as Wolkoff says, “staying ahead of the technology curve while not forgetting your client’s audience and needs,” has allowed Wolkoff and Envision Networks to be in the forefront in delivering products, services, and new technology for any radio station’s programming needs.
To see the new Envision Networks website, click here.
Jeff McKay, a veteran New York-based operations manager, newsman and traffic reporter, is a special features correspondent for TALKERS and RadioInfo. He can be emailed at McKayway@aol.com. Meet Jeff McKay at Talkers New York 2014 on Friday, June 20.