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Pandora Chickened Out!

| June 19, 2014

New Jersey Broadcasters Association convention coverage by consultant Holland Cooke


cookewriterATLANTIC CITY — Stroll the iconic Boardwalk here, and you feel like you’ve stepped-back in time, the good ol’ summertime.

Also timeless: the radio mojo upstairs at Caesars, where the New Jersey Broadcasters Association convention wrapped Wednesday.  Because this state has only one commercial TV station – New York City’s channel 9, re-licensed to Secaucus to save its license years ago – this was, de facto, a radio show.  I attend lots of these state conventions, and each year this is a real good one.

Applause to affable NJ Broadcasters’ president/CEO Paul Rotella, who rounded-up some 300, an impressive headcount for a state meeting, in a state this size, with station travel budgets still tight.  And these attendees WERE…local…very “of” this unique state.  Proof: side-by-side on Radio Row: TWO stations on 1450AM, licensed-to, and sounding-very-much-like, their communities, in different parts of The Garden State.

Next to them, Saturday Night Live veteran Joe Piscopo, remoting his morning show on New York’s AM970 The Answer (also licensed to NJ).  Accepting NJBA’s Howard L. Green Humanitarian Award, crowd-pleaser Piscopo said, of Rotella, “THIS guy can twist arms!”

Empty chair at “The Great Debate: Broadcast v. Pure-Plays

We were told that the Pandora executive who had agreed to appear pulled out, late, but the show went on.  Pandora probably feared factoids like this, offered by Katz Radio Group’s Mary Beth Garber: “Pandora users spend more time listening to AM/FM radio than non-users.”

These various streaming apps don’t just compete for ears; they’re also switch-pitching radio ad dollars, touting listening data estimates stated in broadcast ratings lingo.  “Pandora is making shit up and getting away with it,” Connoisseur CEO Jeff Warshaw reckons.  Research Director Inc.’s Charlie Sislen concurred in more technical terms, outlining how Pandora’s cume and AQH numbers were apples-and-oranges side-by-side with AM/FM ratings.

Demand for what’s called “pure-play Internet radio” like Pandora is being driven by two factors:

  • “Radio hasn’t been its own best friend lately,” Warshaw admits, citing too many commercials and not enough local involvement.
  • And because these new-tech jukeboxes are Internet-delivered, they’re on smartphones, thus back in the pocket, where Baby Boomers once toted transistor radios.  And an undaunted broadcasting executive and NJBA want to put radio back there…

“Every single smartphone has a radio chip in it.”

Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan is leading the charge to light up this sleeper app in phones we already carry.  It’s the NextRadio initiative (, and NJBA was the first state association to endorse it.

“When the lights go out, the Internet goes down, the cell phone service is unreliable,” AM/FM radio is there, Rotella reminds, acknowledging how Superstorm Sandy first-informers among his membership walked-the-walk.  Smulyan urges everyone in radio, everywhere, to tell their wireless provider to “turn on the FM chip, for the safety of my family.”

“Audio consumption is at an all-time high!”

And, Radio Advertising Bureau CEO Erica Farber crowed, by virtue of the Internet, “For the first time, radio isn’t audio-only.”

Emmis NY market manager Deon Levingston observes that “everyone wants to put us in the ‘radio’ box;” so “as we expand out of that box we can grow, but we have to think differently.”

Meantime, per data Garber ticked-off, transmitters still attract 245 million Americans each week, “92% of the population!”  Average listening time: 2 hours and 45 minutes a day.

Radio, Audio, Digital and Your Future

This session alone was worth the trip.  And Borrell Associates’ Gordon Borrell offers the-next-best-thing if you couldn’t be there: you can download his PowerPoint at www.borrellassociates/NJBA2014.


  • “Your job is to help people sell stuff.  And it takes local people to sell advertising.  You have ‘em and they [pure-plays] don’t.”  For now, that is.  Or your market might be among those where Pandora reps, often poached from radio, are already on the street.
  • Local online is now the largest share of local ad expenditures.  +32% in 2013 , projected +42% in 2014.  And those are often Promotion (as opposed to Advertising) dollars, spent by someone other than the person who buys radio.  “Promotions is another bucket, and it’s huge.”
  • By 2018 the average American will consume all media 1 hour per day LESS.  “We can find things faster.”  Accordingly, Borrell urges that broadcasters “Decide: Will you be ‘a legacy media company,’ or ‘a media and marketing company?’”  And he cited historic precedent for this evolution.  “In the 1920s, newspapers started radio stations.  In the 1950s, radio stations started TV stations.”  What he sees as particularly opportune in this next transition is the low cost of launching digital, without having-to-build-the-buildings that housed new radio stations in the 20s and TV stations in the 50s.
  • “Recruit young(er) staffers, and LISTEN to them.”  Millennials are “digital natives” who can help management Boomers get up to speed.
  • Sales: “Yellow Pages & direct mail are in freefall.  That’s where your prospecting should be done.”  Borrell figures “There are only 2 lean-forward media, Internet and Yellow pages.”  Both are points of “user intent;” meaning by the time someone goes there, they’re ready to buy. 

Compelling Programming: How Do You Get Them To Rip The Knob Off?

This closing session began with retired WTOP, Washington VP/news & programming Jim Farley displaying his now-famous newsroom wall sign: “WGAS,” a reminder to staff to avoid stories that failed his “Who Gives A Shit?” threshold.

And with the media landscape undergoing such tectonic change now, fellow panelist and Emmis New York programmer Skip Dillard says “There’s no excuse today not to engage and be locked-into listeners’ lifestyle.”


Holland Cooke ( is a media consultant working at the intersection of radio and the Internet.  You can meet him June 20 at Talkers/NY.

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Category: Analysis