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Managers Divided on Value of Show

Radio groups contacted by Radio World are divided over whether they will bring many of their engineers to the NAB Radio Show, while exhibitors express optimism about business at the Seattle convention.

Radio groups contacted by Radio World are divided over whether they will bring many of their engineers to the NAB Radio Show, while exhibitors express optimism about business at the Seattle convention.

Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest radio group owner with more than 1,200 stations, will bring just a handful of engineers to the convention. Jeff Littlejohn, Clear Channel senior vice president of engineering, said a few corporate officers and people from the local market would attend.

“I don’t think I’m even going to go,” he said.

That contrasts with the Hispanic Broadcasting Corp.

“About half of our engineering managers are going,” said Dave Stewart, Hispanic Broadcasting’s director of engineering. “Staffers are going to get the workshops and certified in the antenna school or the digital conversion school.”

Cox Radio will attend the show in numbers.

“There’s not a company-wide directive, but I think about two-thirds of market or individual station engineers will be coming,” said Sterling Davis, Cox Broadcasting VP of engineering. Though station engineer attendance is at the discretion of station managers, Davis has lobbied for them to come because he will hold group engineering meetings concurrently with the show.

NextMedia Group doesn’t plan to send anyone at the market level to the fall show, said Mark Stennett, vice president of engineering. “I haven’t even decided if I’m going,” he said in August.

‘Important’ show

At press time, the NAB reported that pre-registered attendance was tracking slightly above last year’s Radio Show numbers, and they are looking forward to the same “closing bounce” similar to the late surge in registrations the organization experienced just prior to the spring show.

Attendance last year in New Orleans was about 5,200 people, down about 30 percent from the year before; of those attending, about 2,000 were fully paid, according to NAB at the time.

There may be fewer exhibitors this year, in part because the Xstream component of the show is not included. Still, exhibitors contacted by Radio World have high hopes for the fall convention.

“We’re sending a good number of representatives,” said Thom Mocarsky, vice president of communications for Arbitron Inc. “We’re going to have our booth, we’re sponsoring our own special panel on the Portable People Meter because everybody’s very interested in that. We’re going to invest a lot of time and effort to use the NAB to get our message out.”

“It is an important show,” said Don Spragg, director of RF products and programs for Harris Corp., “because at NAB, the spring show, we introduced the (IBOC transmitter), what we had coming down the line, getting ready to roll. But now we’re getting very close to starting the rollout, with Ibiquity’s plans to get a large number of stations on by the end of this year.”

“We expect the audience to be a quality audience,” said Philippe Generali, president of RCS, “because in those times where budgets are strictly limited, there is no room for the curious and the tire kickers. The station that sends someone to the NAB is making an investment, and this person going to NAB that represents the station or the group of stations usually is looking for information, products, and is really interested in what they see.”

‘Cuts both ways’

Ownership consolidation is one reason given for a lower attendance, at a time when fewer managers represent more stations. Exhibitors Radio World spoke with see some advantages in that concentration.

“Actually (consolidation) makes things easier for us in the sense that the decision-makers for more stations are concentrated in one place,” said Arbitron’s Mocarsky. “Groups do make decisions about ratings services and ratings for the whole group.”

“Consolidation is a sword that cuts both ways,” said Bob Jordan, co-chairman and co-founder of The Media Audit. “You can cover more stations by talking to fewer people, but it shifts more leverage to the customers.”

Clear Channel’s Littlejohn said he wonders if consolidation eventually will decrease the importance of such trade show exhibitions.

“We’ve kind of consolidated our way out of the NAB (shows), because Clear Channel owns 1,200 radio stations, CBS or Viacom owns a big chunk, Citadel and Cumulus, ABC, they all own these big chunks, and it’s no longer several thousand owners, it’s now a few hundred owners.

“The need to get together and work deals is a little different than it was. The vendors are willing to come to us now instead of us coming to them.”

The NAB takes issue with the “few hundred owners” statement.

“There are still nearly 4,000 owners of radio stations in the U.S.,” said Stacy Perrus, NAB conventions media relations manager, “and we believe that most of the employees of these stations, including Clear Channel employees, find real value in attending the Radio Show.

“Where else can you go to hear from the heads of the major groups, experts on independent promotion, companies developing the technology that’s going to change the face of radio, the regulators and legislators shaping our regulatory environment, all within the course of three days?”

Hispanic Broadcasting’s Stewart said he finds another great value in bringing the group’s engineers to the exhibition floor.

“If you have a problem vendor, it’s fairly effective to show up at their booth en masse, and refuse to go away.”