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‘Our Radio Network Is the Mother Ship’

At Radio Disney, ‘whatever success we have ties back to radio’

This is one in a series about how radio executives are putting new media tools to use.

Radio Disney promotes itself as “the No. 1, 24-hour radio network devoted to kids, tweens and families.” Its content is heard on approximately 35 terrestrial broadcast radio stations scattered across the United States.

But programming also is carried on, Sirius/XM satellite radio, the iTunes Radio Tuner, various mobile phone platforms and the Radio Disney iPhone and iPod Touch App — the last of which has exceeded 1 million installations.

Further, Radio Disney recently launched a significantly more capable version of its app. Instead of being a passive listening program, the upgraded Radio Disney iPhone and iPod Touch App allows users to do other things on their iPhones while listening to “Take Over With Ernie D” and other network shows. The upgraded app also lets fans request songs, track down local Radio Disney public events and send “shout outs” to the network’s personalities, which often are read on-air.

Sean Cocchia in October was promoted to Radio Disney senior vice president and general manager; he’s been with Disney for 12 years. He was SVP of business planning and development for Disney Channels Worldwide and has worked at Disney Channel U.S. He oversees Radio Disney’s programming, distribution and marketing departments; his role, according to a company bio, “also includes guiding strategic digital media extensions to optimize assets in the portfolio of Disney Channels Worldwide across digital platforms.”

“We definitely do have a lot of distribution platforms,” says Cocchia. “But make no mistake: At Radio Disney, our radio network is the mother ship. Radio is the central pillar of our content, promotion and listener success. Whatever success we have ties back to radio, and will continue to do so in the future.”

Radio Disney believes it reaches weekly audiences of 29.2 million listeners age 6 and up, and 8.3 million age 6–14 during its programming day.

An upgraded iPhone app lets fans request songs, track local Radio Disney events and send messages to the air talent. Cross-fertilization

Radio Disney’s approach means that the network’s 35 stations are the first link in the chain between the company and its listeners.

“Our local stations are tied into their local communities,” Cocchia says. “As a result, they are the first point of contact for our audience, especially when it comes to local live events that we stage in the community. We also want them to be listening to Radio Disney in the car and at home. Since Radio Disney is something parents can feel comfortable tuning to, this approach works well.”

The network’s Sirius/XM presence covers gaps where local Radio Disney stations don’t exist, or long road trips where access to a single national stream makes extended listening easier.

The Web and mobile thus are extensions of the Radio Disney brand, albeit each with their own value-added features.

“ is linked to the entire family of Disney sites online, so there is real cross-fertilization between them,” Cocchia said.

“Meanwhile, our mobile platforms help kids stay with us when they are on the go. And since this generation is attuned to their mobile handsets, being here is vital to the ongoing success of our entire operation.”

Sean Cocchia was promoted to senior vice president and general manager of Radio Disney this fall. Ironically, by being widely available on non-radio platforms, Radio Disney has found an effective way to drive young listeners to its radio stations.

“As a result, radio is still our number one medium,” Cocchia says. “We expect it to stay that way in the future, no matter how many platforms we are on.”

Nevertheless the network sees the advantages in embracing new technology.

The proof of this can be found in the Radio Disney iPhone and iPod Touch App’s increased capabilities. Beyond supporting multitasking and two-way messaging, the upgraded app allows listeners to tag songs and add them to a list of favorites, access geo-targeted information on their closest Radio Disney station and its upcoming events and purchase premium “Radio Disney App Extras” for a one-time $2.99 fee.

“Kids love to sing along with songs and feel that they have mastered them, so our premium features include offering song lyrics in real time, as the song is being played on Radio Disney,” Cocchia says. “The fee also delivers exclusive videos and podcasts on a continuing basis.”

The fee doesn’t generate all that much revenue, but it does encourage loyalty on the part of those who have paid it, and opens them up to further Disney online purchases in the future.

Radio Disney appears to be taking a reasoned approach to building multiple platforms in this ever-changing media distribution landscape.

First, by staying grounded in broadcast radio, the network is staying close to its core business. But by embracing the Web and mobile, and leveraging their unique features, it appears to be getting the most mileage out of multiple platforms for growing its audience, staying with them wherever they go and ultimately reinforcing its core radio brand.

“We know what our business is about, and we are savvy to the opportunities that new media offers,” Sean Cocchia concludes. “But we never forget that, no matter what, broadcast and satellite radio is Radio Disney’s mother ship.”

James Careless talked with Radio One’s Dan Shelley in the Dec. 1, 2010 issue.