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Radio, the ‘Always With You’ Medium

Part of Radio World’s convention preview coverage of the Radio Show in Washington

New and constantly evolving technology normally associated with digital platforms such as smartphones and social networking sites are being deployed to varying degrees by some radio broadcasters to please clients and enhance the interpersonal relationships unique to local radio and its listeners.

Danielle Outlaw says social networking has allowed listeners to step up their connection with on-air personalities by adding in the ‘relationship’ component. While these so-called “personal media” technologies are being deployed internally on the business side of a station operation, broadcasters are now being advised by some in the industry to seize new technology to help update their brands and grow their listener/user bases.

Reality radio

Some of that encouragement comes from Danielle Outlaw, vice president for sales at Neuhoff Media, an Illinois group of a dozen AM/FM outlets in Springfield, Danville and Decatur.

“Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are important tools in expanding any station’s brand,” Outlaw said. “When done well, this social networking can take your brand beyond your signal. ‘Reality radio’ was in existence far sooner than ‘reality TV’ kicked it.”

For many years, she said, morning radio in particular has invited listeners into the lives of their jocks, mostly via the telephone.

“Social networking has allowed listeners to step up their connection with on-air personalities by adding in the ‘relationship’ component. The once-voyeuristic aspect of radio is now gone and personalities are more accessible then ever.”

Alan Bishop, president and managing partner of Finger Lakes Radio Group — which owns six stations in upper New York State — concurs with Outlaw and sees new technology giving younger radio professionals vast new opportunities to demonstrate their own initiative.

“With Facebook, we’re starting to use video to get both our listeners and clients more excited. We have a top 40 station where a restaurant chain came into the market and was giving away free chicken wings for a year for its first customers.

“One of our nighttime DJs went out with his video camera — on his own initiative — and taped the folks in line camping out as part of the promotion. Then he put the video on YouTube and Facebook and the client absolutely loved it.”

According to Outlaw, “It’s safe to say we don’t just sell ‘terrestrial radio’ anymore. Stations like Neuhoff Media are now commonly selling commercial inventory inside their streams — video on demand, podcasts, texting, RDS, gateway videos, banner ads, and Web site content.

“The challenge is for account executives to think of terrestrial radio as the ‘core’ of what we do, and the additional products as ways to ‘build a brick wall’ around their clients, offering them a one-stop shop for their marketing,” she said.

‘Always with you’

Bishop, who will join Outlaw at Radio Show 2010 for a Sept. 29 session titled “New Opportunities Using New Technology,” said much of the impetus to adapt emerging technologies for radio comes from young staffers.

“I think unfortunately, especially in small markets, there’s a ‘graying’ of staff in the radio business. I was excited when our group recently put a top 40 format on the air because we knew it would attract young [staffers] to radio.”

Bishop’s Finger Lakes Radio Group is into new technology behind the scenes, as well. Beyond radio properties, the group also owns five Verizon Wireless stores.

“So we know what’s going on in that technology, too, and how that may apply to what ever we decide to do,” said Bishop. “For a few years now we’ve been using Verizon Wireless Internet AirCards for remotes.”

Finger Lakes also recently installed a VoIP phone system to connect the four separate offices of one of its stations. Bishop said the practical advantage of this technical scheme for live broadcasts is that with software, any laptop commuter can connect directly to the VoIP system.

Alan Bishop “This means if someone wants to do a remote with the laptop, he or she just dials up the extension in the studio and the board op can put them on the air quickly,” Bishop said.

Outlaw said user-oriented radio apps like Pandora — which offer virtually self-programmed content — fall short where terrestrial, community-based broadcast stations excel: in local content, news delivery, community involvement and building local-brand relationships.

As for currently available (and free) smartphone apps that allow users to pull up live broadcasts of virtually any public radio station in the country, or the latest hourly NPR newscast, from anywhere else, “I do see in the near future most commercial stations introducing [similar] listener apps,” said Outlaw. “I see taking radio from the ‘away from home media’ to the ‘always with you’ media.”

Bishop does not envision HD Radio — one of the most discussed new technologies specifically designed for radio — as a realistic tool for growing audiences and selling spots, and does not see HD Radio reaching critical mass in America. In his opinion, it’s a bad business model.

“Every station in America would have adopted it by now if … it wasn’t [for] all the required license fees … Where’s my return on investment? I see none.”

Outlaw said when introducing any new tech tool, it’s important for broadcasters to be “cognizant on delivery.” The audience for these products, she said, is tech-savvy and has high operational expectations.

“Turning listeners off initially may cause them not to return to your product at all. Ease of use and quality of content will create loyal, repeat users.”