By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
ORLANDO — The 2018 RAB/NAB Radio Show in Orlando culminated in the annual Marconi Radio Awards Dinner and Cox Media Group was a big winner with Houston’s KKBQ-FM named “Legendary Station of the Year,” Joe Kelley of WDBO-FM in Orlando as “Large Market Personality of the Year,” Atlanta’s WSB-AM receiving “Major Market Station of the Year” and WDBO in Orlando taking home “Large Market Station of the Year.”
In the halls of the Hilton Bonnet Creek, at the seminars and in the Marketplace, everyone was talking about the Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But when the talk returned to radio, there were interesting discussions about such topics as tracking media exposure over multiple platforms and if or when deregulation would happen.
Tracking your media prior to 2000 was simpler. But with the Internet, podcasting and other forms disseminating the radio product, measuring the effectiveness of offline radio is more important than ever. I spoke with Greg Janoff, president and CEO of Next Wave LLC, who talked about how listeners respond to radio and what triggers their responses. “We have always had reach and frequency as currency. Attribution adds response metrics to the mix. Now, we can specifically see what creative resonates best with an audience and optimize a client’s campaign based on first party data. Companies including AnalyticOwl are helping the industry change the conversation we have with our clients, and I believe because of it advertisers are re-discovering the power of radio,” says Janoff.
This year’s Radio Show included a Career Fair with a number of radio groups in attendance including: Radio One, Alpha Media, and Beasley Media Group. The fair was well attended by college students and young people looking for their first big break. Beasley VP of digital operations Kimberly Sonneborn told TALKERS what her company is looking for in personnel. “On the digital side, we want passionate people — people doing what they love. We also have a need for people in sales, people who have that passion and are eager to succeed. We’re always looking to diversify revenue by looking at 3rd parties and what is best for our clients’ needs. We want to be able to offer them a complete and integrated package that gives them what they need to get people into their businesses and their marketplace,” says Sonneborn.
Sitting down to talk with the NAB’s Dennis Wharton, he was happy to report that attendance for this year’s Radio Show increased 8% over 2017, something he hopes bodes well for the industry. I asked him to talk about what he sees in radio’s immediate future. He says, “This debt overhang of iHeart Media and Cumulus has been an overriding theme for the industry for a long time, but they’ve now resolved those issues to some degree and that should trickle down and benefit our entire industry. We had some smaller but strong companies that were making money, but when you have a company like iHeart that had over $20 billion in debt it becomes a perception issue for the industry as iHeart is the largest station owner. Now that iHeart and Cumulus are shedding that debt, and you have a company like Entercom buying CBS Radio, two strong companies now merged run by David Field, a tremendous business man who can help sell the story of radio, the future is bright. Could it be better, sure, and with digital and podcast we may be able to turn the revenue around.”
When it comes to a big Radio Show topic – deregulation – Wharton says it’s not whether it can, he believes it will – and soon.
“We have an FCC Chairman in Ajit Pai who is more friendly to broadcasters. He’s indicated he’s going to push for this, and if I had to guess early next year. These rules haven’t been modernized for over 20 years, and there’s an opportunity, particularly in smaller markets, to goose the revenue potential with deregulation. When we’re competing with the Facebooks and Googles of the world that have no regulation, it’s appropriate to review the rules in place and reflect the modern marketplace a little better.”
Wharton says the most crucial challenge facing the radio business in the next six to 12 months is growing revenue. “With the overhang of the debt issues resolving, the potential for growing the business beyond flat-to-down 1% revenue numbers is there and hopefully we’ll be talking about growth. Looking ahead, I think we’ll see more companies embrace podcasting because of the potential revenue opportunities. I think potential new FCC rules will be another topic – modernizing ownership rules, and it’s still not clear how that will play out, but that’s radio in the very near future.”
Wharton also announces the 2019 NAB Radio Show returns to Texas and will be held next September in Dallas.
TALKERS special features correspondent Jeff McKay can be emailed at: email@example.com.