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Herman Talks Radio’s Future, Leadership

Radio “lifer” grew up within the company and has watched the medium evolve

Scott Herman is a lifer at what’s now CBS Radio, having worked his way up from an entry-level newsroom job at New York’s 1010 WINS(AM) to his current dual posts as executive vice president, operations for the entire company as well as market manager for CBS Radio’s seven New York City stations. He spoke to Radio World’s Scott Fybush about how he sees the business changing, how he sees it staying the same and what he’ll be discussing when he appears on a panel as part of the NAB Show’s Broadcast Management Conference. The session “Radio’s Lunch and Learn: Vision and Leadership — Getting the Buy-In,” is scheduled for Monday, April 13 at noon. — Paul McLane

RW: You’ve spent almost 40 years in the business of all-news radio. How has evolving technology changed the way your stations do news?

Herman: Most of it is in the delivery of content, in that we’re still local; we still want to deliver great content with great talent. That hasn’t changed. I think what’s changed is how people are consuming the products, and we want to go where our listeners are.

So from a technological standpoint, I think it’s probably the different devices. We have, which is our podcasting platform, and we produce news; we produce sports; we produce self-help; we run the gamut in content in our podcasting, and I think that’s an important place for us, as well as, which is the home of all our live streaming.

So I think what we’ve learned over the years is we can’t just expect listeners to put on the radio. We have to supply our content on different devices, so they can take us wherever they go and consume it how they want to consume it when they want to consume it.

RW: How does it change things behind the scenes from an operational point of view when you have one audience expecting a linear product that’s live and nonstop and another taking it in bits and pieces over a station app or podcasts?

Herman: News stories and news storytelling is all about picking the right stories and great storytelling, and I don’t think that part has changed at all. Obviously, the live streams match up as an exact vertical to what we’re doing on the air, while the podcasting might be “playing the hits.”

It might be us taking a longer view and putting it in a format that’s easier for people to consume when they want it, say taking a presidential news conference and speech and being able to consume it when they want it.

The overall sound on the air? I don’t think that’s changed dramatically. I think we’re always updating and reviewing what listeners want. When you look at sports, 35, 37 years ago when I got into this, there was a need to deliver every score, every day. We now realize that people are getting their scores from different places, different websites, and we don’t need to deliver 25, 30 scores from football or hockey every morning.

But it’s about using what radio does best, which is, “What’s current? What’s happened since the morning paper? What’s happened since they last checked into their smartphones?” They’re now driving their car, what information do they need? I think that’s where we’ve changed a little bit, we’ve recognized the fact that people have gotten a lot of the information already before they’ve gotten in the car, what do we need to do to be unique and different with information?

RW:Your Washington-market station, WNEW(FM), has been in the news recently. After three years of 24/7 news, it’s added evening and overnight talk programming to its format. Is it still possible these days to establish a brand like WNEW and to get it to stick in the face of all these different choices?

Herman: I think it is. 1010 WINS is celebrating its 50th anniversary last year, and it took the New York City blackout to really establish that station. Back then, you didn’t have TV news on as much as it is today, you didn’t have cable news, you didn’t have the Web, so clearly it’s harder today.

But we’re happy with how WNEW has gone. We knew when we started the project that it would take time. We knew that (Hubbard all-news) WTOP was entrenched in the capital, so we went with a different approach. We went with a format that was more traditionally like the old Westinghouse stations. We concentrated as much on the Beltway (suburbs) and Baltimore because we thought that might be an underserved audience.

And I think what we’re recognizing now is that we can still live up to our all-news promise being all news 5 a.m. until 8 p.m., but we could also branch out and do longer form news and talk programming in the evenings, as well as carrying some play by play sports. That’s a model that’s different in each market. In Washington, WTOP defined all-news, but for years that included play-by-play sports and longer-form programming, as well.

RW:In other markets where CBS stations are more established, what’s the value that comes with brands that have been in the marketplace for almost a century, in some cases?

Herman: We have the best brands in the news business, and with those brands come trust and credibility. People can get their time from a million different places, but when WINS says “WINS newstime,” you will change your watch if your watch says something different. There are not many formats with that kind of credibility. You can hear someone tell you a news story, but until you hear it on WBZ in Boston or KNX in Los Angeles or KCBS in San Francisco, it’s just not reality, because you haven’t heard it from a trusted name, a trusted brand. That’s the advantage of being CBS Radio. We’ve been doing this so long that we have that credibility, and we haven’t lost that trust the listener has in us.

RW:All-news radio traditionally relies on attracting listeners as they age into its demographic, becoming parents and homeowners. Is that still happening in today’s fragmented media landscape?

Herman: In some cases we’ve experimented with all-news being on FM, and that’s a play market by market based on your signal and the terrain. It’s not just automatic that putting your signal on FM is a victory. Fortunately for us, a lot of people come to the AM band for our news and sports stations.

But I think when you’re on FM, the audience automatically gets a little bit younger. We have seen that, and clearly when they reach the 35-year-old part of the 25–54 demographic, they really do find the format.

RW:Will you still be doing radio on the AM dial in a decade or two?

Herman: I’ve seen so many technologies go by the wayside. When I was growing up, I listened to cassettes and 8-track tapes in my car. A lot of those things have gone away, but radio continues to flourish. Ninety-two to 93 percent of the population still listens to free over-the-air radio, and I just don’t see that changing.

I think what will continue to evolve is the technology and the devices they listen to it on. We still hope for a day when every phone will have a mobile FM chip in there and people will be able to use their phone as a transistor radio the way we did when we were growing up. I think we’ve made great strides with that as an industry. And I think HD Radio has been a great help. It’s another way we’ve been able to put AM signals on the FM band because of multicasting. So I do think radio will continue to flourish even 25, 30 years from now.

RW:What about that all-news staple, “traffic and weather together?”

Herman: One thing that’s never gone away is traffic and weather! I think there will always be traffic. I look at my commute from New Jersey to New York every day and every five years I have to leave 15 minutes earlier because traffic has gotten worse. I don’t think traffic will ever go away, and I don’t think weather will ever go away, at least from our northeast stations. They’re staples that are always going to be with us.

RW:Does it worry you when you look around at the overall trends of the industry and see other broadcasters struggling with debt load and cutting staffing levels?

Herman: Everybody has to do what they have to do. We’re very lucky at CBS because from the top of the company all the way down, content is a very important part of what we do. From Leslie Moonves all the way down, local programming, content that people want to see and hear is the paramount of what our company lives on. Even when we bring new stations into the fold, such as new acquisitions in Miami and Philadelphia, they quickly become part of what we do at CBS because so many people are there to carry the message to them.

I would love the entire radio industry to be strong. I think that that’s good for all of us, but I’m very focused on running our radio stations with what we need to do to stay on top.

RW:You’ll be talking about leadership at the NAB Show. What are your leadership philosophies?

Herman: We’re a very bottom up company, to some degree. Our stations are all locally programmed. Our program directors are extremely important; our sales management and leadership in the local markets is very important. We depend on them to a large degree to carry that message and lead the troops in our local markets, so its not so much Dan Mason or me or Michael Weiss, our head of sales, talking from the pulpit down. A lot of the execution of the playbook is left up to the local markets, as I think it should be.

The most enjoyable part of my job is the people. It’s easy to look at CBS and the great history of the company and the formats and brands, but the people at these stations —I love the fact that I get to hand out service awards to people that have been with us 15, 20, 25 years, and that happens so often in our company.

I love watching people grow. I’m an example of someone who grew through the station. I started as a desk assistant at 1010 WINS in 1978 making $3.85 an hour, and I’ve never left the company.

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