By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
ATLANTIC CITY — New Jersey broadcasters face the daunting issue of having to compete with New York City, the largest market in the nation to the north, and Philadelphia, the 9th Nielsen-rated market to the south, all while fighting formidable radio stations in their own backyard markets like PPM-rated Middlesex-Somerset-Union, along with #53-rated Monmouth-Ocean on the Jersey Shore, and rated markets in Atlantic City, Morristown, and Trenton. With a population of over eight million, many of whom commute daily to the neighboring big cities, the task of gaining listener loyalty might be more challenging in the Garden State than anywhere else.
Each year, the New Jersey Broadcasters Association holds its annual convention in Atlantic City, and as is the tradition, it’s not just a chance for broadcasters to mingle. The 69th annual two-day event that took place yesterday and Wednesday (6/22-23) at Caesars Atlantic City featured a number of productive work sessions dedicated to new technologies, mentoring talent, improving stations’ ad revenue, and honoring the best performers on New Jersey radio.
“This convention brings everyone in the state together. We try to bring in all the cutting edge data and innovations from within the past year, industry experts who bring the latest and greatest to us and how innovation and new technology impacts New Jersey,” says Paul Rotella, President/CEO of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association.
“Everybody talks about New York and Philadelphia, but if you put an antenna right in the middle of New Jersey we would have the biggest market in the world,” adds Rotella.
The opening address was delivered by TALKERS and RadioInfo publisher Michael Harrison, who reminded those in attendance that the current broadcast model of the industry can remain viable for years to come if AM/FM stations effectively transition into the digital era and figure out a way to climb out from under the “stifling debt that continues to suck up all the creative energies that radio needs to fulfill its potential.”
Harrison points out that radio is the only mass medium from the analogue era (such as television, newspapers, magazines, books, and movies) that is not completely dependent on the increasingly ubiquitous screen to present the core of its product. He says, “It is incumbent upon radio to use the screen wisely in a way that enhances its strength, the magic of audio – the infinite theater of the mind – and not succumb to ‘screenus envy’ by cranking out crappy television.”
Harrison advises music radio to “get back in touch with the music and stop treating it like filler.” He suggests that talk radio to “spread out and explore more diverse programming options that are just waiting to be addressed.” And he warns that, based on their track records, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump present serious threats to the First Amendment.
The Learning Curve
Some of the speakers at the NJBA included Gordon Borrell of Borrell Associates, who showed an enormous amount of money is being spent on marketing and promotions, coming at the cost of advertising. An important note was that directories, cinema, magazine and cable ads are facing the budget ax, but radio is still being favored by advertisers, including digital. However, “it’s up to your reps” to get the message out as businesses are cutting out some of the ways they advertise.
Fred Jacobs, CEO of Jacobs Media discussed driverless cars, but focused on the importance of radio in the car.
“We have always owned the car with radio, a combination connected for nearly a century. Radio’s place on the dashboard is clearly being threatened,” says Jacobs. “The car is the number one listening location for radio. Automotive is the number one driver for radio revenue. The car, which was once a 3,000 lb. radio, is more like a smartphone now. Radio share is dropping in the connected car, but people still want radio.”
Jacobs says, “The car has become an interconnected device. Automakers are looking at all devices, not just radio. Technology now trumps the importance of the car to the owner. Eight of every 10 either love or like their connected car. However, radio remains the primary option in the car. With a new array of competitors, your radio station must have a clean and coherent strategy for the connected car. We need to be wherever our audience is.”
“The Power of Broadcast” theme gave the moderators a platform to highlight statistics showing how radio remains a powerful tool to sell goods and services, and better ways to increase sales.
Jersey Radio Knowledge
The afternoon sessions, along with mentoring included breakout panels on successful women in radio, programmatic sales, improving sales relationships, the increasing use of technology in programming and the relationship between radio and car sales.
Eric Johnson, PD for WKXW-FM, Trenton (New Jersey 101.5) has the unusual task of programming talk during the week and music on the weekends. Johnson says that technology has obviously changed over the past 15 years:
“Up until just a few years ago, the station website was just a brochure for the radio station. In 2011, when Townsquare came in we’ve upped the game with our website adding web journalists, weather, and other elements. We’ve actually seen our median age range drop by a few years. People see updated news and info in their Facebook news feed, Instagram and Twitter. The radio lets people know we have these products and sends them to social media, while Facebook and the rest also point people back to the radio, so one kind of feeds the other,” says Johnson.
Johnson adds that by using social media, they can increase the advertiser’s experience creating a custom plan to drive sales and listeners to their products and services.
Glen Tacinelli, the GSM for WABC, New York says the synergy between car dealerships and radio has to be one that works both ways, and describes the foundation for how it’s done:
“A two-prong approach using an amazing account exec to work with the dealership creating a solid and creative message to the listener… then you need to put together a solid schedule that delivers with that creative spot,” says Tacinelli. “It’s not just about a great deal with good rates. The dealer has to believe in their account manager, and have faith in the radio station to deliver that message. If you deliver results as we do, and the dealership has faith in you, that dealership will stay with you.”
“Our panels are all world class, with practical knowledge covering every aspect of this business, including celebrating the great women in our industry. We expose everyone to all the apps available to enhance the radio experience, and the conference for the second year in a row is Shazamable, enhancing the conference experience,” says Rotella.
Part of the annual NJBA convention included live broadcasts by radio stations. This year’s “Radio Row” was participated in by Atlantic City’s WPGG-AM and WOND-AM, along with New Brunswick’s WCTC-AM.
Harry Hurley, the morning host on WPGG and also a member of the annual TALKERS “Heavy Hundred,” calls it a duty that adds an important element to the annual NJBA. Hurley performed his entire four hour morning show without commercial (or any) interruptions!
”This annual conference and gala is so important to our industry. This is a great way to show off our industry, but it’s also important to be relevant where news is made. A radio row presence where live and local radio broadcasting is taking place is great for the event and a privilege for us to do it,” says Hurley, known in Atlantic City as the “Mayor of the Morning” for his popular show.
Hurley and the other broadcasters on Radio Row then later took part in a reporter’s roundtable event along with Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and WCBS New York morning news anchor Wayne Cabot in front of a live audience.
Radio Row was also surrounded by vendors including those with some of the latest technological advances for both broadcast and digital.
A Diverse Hall of Fame
The “Class of 2016” inducted into the New Jersey Broadcasters Hall of Fame included Bert Baron, Ed Hurst, and the late Casey Kasem.
Bert Baron, a lifelong Jersey resident, just celebrated his 75th year on the air in New Jersey, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest DJs of all time.
Baron started out as a guy who ripped wire copy and helped write for a weekend Polka show. His long career eventually brought him to WCTC-AM in New Brunswick, where he established a live-and-local presence, moving from afternoons to morning drive.
“At first I thought it was a joke and I actually called Paul Rotella to see if this was for real. Celebrating nearly 20 eventful years in radio, this for me is a very special time. With only three of us going in (to the Hall of Fame) this year, to be one of them is very special and an amazing honor.”
Baron adds that the importance of live and local radio, much like his day spent on Radio Row, is “vital to the industry and its advertisers.”
He says, “Being live and local in the morning and afternoon drive has been critical to us. It gives us more live and local content and that’s what advertisers are really craving. Our live mornings and our afternoons with the popular Tommy G have been well received by both advertisers generating local income and our listeners.”
Ed Hurst got his start as a youngster in Atlantic City, and in a historic 75-year career in New Jersey and Philadelphia broadcasting to South Jersey, Hurst’s long list of achievements include his work in live broadcasts which paved the way for shows including American Bandstand. The late Dick Clark had publically stated that without Hurst, there might not have been a Dick Clark.
The late-Casey Kasem’s resume speaks for itself. Although not born or raised in New Jersey, he became America’s disc jockey with his American Top 40 show carried by a number of New Jersey radio stations. His daughter, radio host Kerri Kasem, accepted the award on his behalf.
The Hall of Fame ceremony is just a part of the annual Awards Luncheon, which includes individual awards for stations and broadcasters covering news, public affairs, and programming along with college radio.
“We also celebrate excellence, including recognizing our up-and-coming farm team by awarding excellence on New Jersey college radio,” says Rotella.
In addition, former boxing champion Evander Holyfield received the Howard L. Green Humanitarian of the Year Award, and a number of scholarships were handed out to students.
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.