By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
ATLANTIC CITY — The 68th annual New Jersey Broadcaster’s Association Conference & Gala in Atlantic City brought together state broadcasters, management, sales and industry leaders for a two-day event that included honoring those who’ve helped to make New Jersey broadcasting great, and new this year, to recognize broadcasters mentoring those considering a career in radio.
The conference opened this week with the theme: “Broadcast Has a New Attitude.” NJBA president & CEO Paul Rotella told Talkers, “We heard from a variety of voices during this conference which provided attendees with the latest and most substantial evolution in research, technology and advancement in audience measurement.” During the conference, the NJBA honored FOX News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano as its recipient of the Howard L. Green Humanitarian of the Year. Also, Greater Media’s Peter Smyth inducted Dan Finn, Harry Hurley, Richard Swetits, and Kevin Williams into the NJBA Hall of Fame.
Day One of the NJBA Conference and Gala included a meeting of the Board of Directors and membership meeting, followed by a reception in the evening. But the Thursday events brought everyone together, especially the celebrity breakfast — an info session led by Emmis founder & CEO Jeff Smulyan and Shazam’s CEO Rich Riley, which covered bold and fresh radio-related initiatives that are positioning themselves as powerful enhancements to traditional radio. The goal of this session was how to effectively integrate these digital features to enrich the listener’s audio experience.
Two of the session highlights were the “Reporter’s Roundtable,” moderated by Fox News Channel Chief national correspondent and White House watcher Jim Angle. Also participating on the panel were WCBS afternoon anchor Wayne Cabot; CBS chief congressional correspondent Steven Portnoy; FNC contributor David Webb; WPGG-AM Atlantic City’s Harry Hurley; WCTC-AM New Brunswick morning host Bert Baron; and Longport Media’s WOND-AM afternoon host David Spatz, discussing talk topics and personalities dominating New Jersey and national news.
This year’s sessions also include a newly added student division, led by NJBA Life Member professor Dick Taylor discussing sales as a career, along with WPLJ-FM midday DJ Race Taylor on how to find your place behind the microphone.
Other sessions included workshops on copy writing, the future of sales and marketing, and how the way radio ratings and audio measurement will be changing, led by representatives from Nielsen.
All of this happened while several stations — including WPGG’s Harry Hurley — -were broadcasting their shows live from “radio row” at Caesar’s Hotel in Atlantic City.
Talk Radio’s Corridor Concerns
While New Jersey is home to Nielsen markets #41 (Middlesex-Somerset-Union), #53 (Monmouth-Ocean), #119 (Morristown), #149 (Atlantic City) and #150 (Trenton) along with Sussex and an overall radio listening population of over seven million, it is sandwiched on the I-95 corridor between Philadelphia and New York City, whose stations are also rated in these markets.
New Jersey is known for talk radio, led by Trenton’s talk and music hybrid “New Jersey 101.5” WKXW-FM, programmed by longtime PD Eric Johnson. The station bills itself as “not New York not Philadelphia. Proud to be New Jersey. ”
For two talk stations that each broadcast on the AM band at 1450 in the Garden State, to gain an advantage they must be live and especially local.
“It’s important now more than ever. What sets WCTC apart is we provide great national coverage but also the local content people really want,” says Bert Baron, PD and morning show host of Greater Media’s New Brunswick news/talker. “We talk the local issues in both mornings with me and with Tommy G in afternoon drive. That setup gives our listeners a local feel with local perspectives.”
As for “The Mayor,” as WPGG’s Harry Hurley is nicknamed, he says whenever anyone locally needs anything done, “they called Harry.”
“We never forget our localness,” says Hurley, the station’s senior programming consultant and morning host. “This is important – the number one talk radio giant is Rush Limbaugh. He generates ratings and relevance, but not the revenue in the market. But the local broadcaster can do anything in the market, from personal appearances, remote broadcasts, testimonials – the personal touch. For this, local wins out over national almost every time. The strength of localness means your clients know you and they know you’re fiercely loyal to them.”
When it comes to sales, both Baron and Hurley make it clear that the cost of a local host is definitely outweighed by the revenue they generate.
“We know our local advertisers have an appetite for the local appeal we bring. They want to be a part of the synergy. They see a tremendous return on their investment, and everybody wins,” says Baron, who added their recent remote broadcast at an East Brunswick shopping mall for charity headlined by Baron and Tommy G brought out “American Idol” 2015 top finalist and local resident Jax as a surprise guest.
“We should never forget we’re still in the throes of a great recession, but my show has not lost a single advertiser during the great recession – not one,” says Hurley. “You develop brand and client loyalty and deliver relevance and generate business to your sponsors. You build a relationship, the business side will be fine.”
Honoring NJ’s Best
The Awards Luncheon was the finale of the NJBA. Honored this year for their service to broadcasting in the Garden State were the late Frank Sinatra, Kevin Williams, Daniel Finn, Richard Swetits, and Harry Hurley.
Sinatra, who passed away in 1998, had roots in radio in the 1950s as the star of the NBC radio program “Rocky Fortune.” His character, Rocco Fortunato (a.k.a. Rocky Fortune) worked as a temp for the Gridley Employment Agency and stumbled into crime-solving by way of the odd jobs he was assigned.
Williams has spent four decades in radio marketing with the former Millennium Radio and now Townsquare Radio on the Jersey Shore on WOBM-AM/FM, and is currently the sports director for the Shore Sports Network for Townsquare.
Finn is currently the SVP and regional market manager for Greater Media in NJ overseeing the Central New Jersey and Jersey Shore cluster. He also served as NJBA chairman twice.
Hurley is one of the most successful local broadcasters in New Jersey and a mainstay to both his fiercely loyal listeners and his equally loyal advertisers in the Atlantic City area. He has also ranked since 2007 in the Politicker NJ Top 100 Political Power List.
Swetits enters the NJBA Hall of Fame as a Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Swetits has been involved in NJ radio since 1975, starting as an engineer, and later becoming GM of WHTG on the Jersey Shore. He has been on the NJBA board of directors for over 25 years.
“New Jersey radio as a whole has been an industry success story. We’re pushed in by New York and Philadelphia so local radio is important to our listeners and the citizens of New Jersey,” says Rotella. “It’s good for us as a community of broadcasters to talk about what’s evolving in the industry. It’s important now more than ever. The awards are important for the comradery of the industry. Today, it’s essential for the broadcasters who attend. They learn about cutting-edge technologies, about new apps that are interacting with radio and are generating interaction with sponsors, the radio stations and the people on them.”
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.