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Seacrest Honored With First Digital Impact Leadership Award

Early success in radio helped spur longevity in the industry

In recognition of his work in radio, broadcast television and digital media, Variety named Ryan Seacrest as recipient of the magazine’s first Digital Impact Leadership Award at CES 2016 on Thursday.

“Ryan Seacrest has been referred to as a successor to Dick Clark, but he’s more the Steve Jobs or Elon Musk of the media business,” said Bob Pittman, Seacrest’s boss and the CEO of iHeartMedia, after introducing Seacrest.

Seacrest’s success has been due in part to his ability to work across platforms easily, whether it’s radio, television, Twitter or YouTube, Pittman said, pointing to Seacrest’s work on KIIS(FM) in Los Angeles, on “American Idol” and on the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games as a television host.

It was Seacrest’s early success in radio that helped spur his longevity in the industry. “I grew up learning about every aspect of the radio business: sales, content, promotions,” Seacrest said, and his affection for the medium grew from there.

Even though radio doesn’t seem to get much play at a show like CES, it’s a magic medium, said Pittman. After receiving the award, he and Seacrest sat for an informal interview with Variety Co-Editor-in-Chief Andrew Wallenstein.

“Radio is the first social media,” Pittman said. “If we invented [radio] today, it would simply be part of the digital [environment] and would be the magic frequency. No data charges, no buffering. It’s magic! There are 175 million smart phones in the U.S., but there are 1 billion radios. So imagine a service that gets … that kind of distribution.”

Seacrest’s success on radio comes from his approachability, a trait that is invaluable on a medium like that, Pittman said. “Radio is like companion show,” Pittman said. Users who are driving or can’t interact with their phone can still connect with a personality on the radio.” 

Seacrest’s advice to those looking for the next big thing when it comes to technology is to focus on curiosity. “It starts with an education of what the consumer might need,” he said.

It’s also important to realize that radio still has the same ability to break in new talent the way it always has, Pittman said.

The main way to discover music is through FM radio, Pittman said. Regardless of the users — iHeartRadio listeners, Pandora users, satellite radio customers — FM radio is where you discover music, he said.