By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
ORLANDO — Thursdays are always a busy day at the NAB Radio Show that begins with the Advertiser Breakfast and culminates in the Marconi Radio Awards Dinner in the evening. The talk of the NAB for many has turned from radio to Capitol Hill thanks to the extraordinary events surrounding the Senate Judiciary hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, but radio chatter today at the Marketplace and in the Hilton halls centers on monetizing podcasting, the state of radio, where news/talk is heading, and how the connected car could change radio.
Gabe Hobbs, the president of Gabe Hobbs Media and longtime programmer, tells TALKERS radio continues to embrace the positives, but has some work to do on some serious negatives. “Radio continues to hold its ground as a place to discover new music and find out about problems and issues that are affecting their towns and the nation. What they are doing wrong but that I believe radio is on the way to correcting is they are not embracing technology and podcasting platforms quickly enough, and that came from iHeart Media and Cumulus not able to spend money due to their bankruptcy status. Hopefully, we’ll start to see serious investment in these platforms to distribute great audio.”
One of the interesting topics that came out of the info sessions on “Bringing Radio to Apps in the Car” and “Will the Connected Car Revolutionize Radio?” was regarding the problem distracted driving has on the use of car infotainment systems. Developers are working on this and one — TrafficCarma — is soon to market an app to radio and TV stations that intends to make using a map app more safe. Gil Edwards is head of product safety and engagement for the company and says, “Distracted driving is now the leading cause of fatalities on the roads today and it’s a huge issue with younger drivers. Our new app addresses that issue, and it will be called ‘Highway Hero.’ This app will monitor a person’s driving performance, including speeding, over-turning, braking, and even tracks their use of the phone while they drive — whatever can distract a driver on the road. It creates a scoring system that everyone in a family can use and creates an environment where a parent can monitor their kid’s or elderly parent’s driving to help achieve better driving performance.”
Edwards added that their app, which also includes real-time road conditions, during a 30-day testing phase decreased driver distraction by 35%, along with a 20% decrease in speeding and hard breaking. He says TrafficCarma has already received positive interest from radio stations for the ability to create multiple revenue streams.
During the session addressing bringing the radio app to the car, John Vermeer, the SVP for business development & partnership for iHeartMedia proclaimed, “Radio is alive and well in the car,” stating that the first thing drivers do when they get in the car is turn on the radio. Says Vermeer, “There are different ways to be a part of the in-car environment. In just eight years we have moved from connecting our app in the car to connecting to Samsung refrigerators in the kitchen. This requires significant investment and commitment.
Envision Networks president & CEO Danno Wolkoff says as radio companies become more stable, content providers such as him will benefit. “Our motto has always been to find out what the stations want and give it to them. If we can create content for them, especially on the local level, they can certainly find advertising sponsorships whether it’s 24/7, short-form or weekend shows. In fact, we just brought back Wolfman Jack due to demand – and who would have thought he’d be back on the radio again. He passed away 20 years ago and now he’s been brought back when we launched with two dozen stations. The bottom line is people love great content.”
As for the news/talk format, Phil Boyce, SVP for spoken word at Salem Media, tells TALKERS the news cycle is a huge opportunity for his company and for the format. “It’s a great time to be in the news/talk format – you just can’t get out of the way of breaking news. Salem is probably the most researched news/talk company out there. I question 1,600 listeners each year as a part of a research project we’ve been doing for about six years now. The one thing our listeners crave is breaking news, and that’s how we focus our hosts. Right now we’re in the middle of a breaking news cycle that’s never been like this – and it may be like this for a long time to come.”
Legendary Westwood One talk host Jim Bohannon says that news/talk programmers need to also shift the focus away from what he calls “the incessant drumbeat of politics, politics, politics” to bring in new and younger listeners. “We need to cover the top stories of the day. But the one-sided, mostly conservative side is a mistake. We need to be talking more about what people really care about other than the political issues of the day. My advice to talk radio is ‘broaden the message’ and use all the option open to us, on every device that’s out there whether it’s streaming, podcasting or a pop-up toaster – no matter the device we need to do it.”
Tomorrow we will wrap-up our coverage of the NAB Radio Show 2018, including a one-on-one with the NAB EVP Dennis Wharton on the state of radiio.
Jeff McKay is special features correspondent for TALKERS magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.