‘We Are Defined By What We Offer You’

Radio One aims to be multi-platform choice of black/urban America
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For 30 years Radio One has prided itself on serving black and urban Americans. Today, the company has 53 stations in 16 U.S. markets and bills itself as being “the largest radio broadcasting company that primarily targets African-American and urban listeners.”

But radio is just the beginning. The footprint of its family of brands — local radio, syndicated radio shows, digital assets and TV — makes its content available to 82 percent of the U.S. African-American audience.

“We take a true multi-platform approach to reaching our people whichever way we can,” says Dan Shelley, the radio division’s GM of digital. “These days, having a multi-platform approach is just the cost of doing business — and we are definitely here to do business.”

Radio One’s properties include Interactive One, creator of interactive online communities for black/urban Americans; and it has stakes in TV One, a cable/satellite TV channel, and Reach Media. The latter is built upon the “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” which is in approximately 105 U.S. markets, and featuring the popular website blackamericaweb.com.

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The site mypraiseatl.com is from Radio One station WPZE(FM) in Atlanta, while hellobeautiful.com is Interactive One’s website for black women. The company has launched sophisticated websites in support of its radio properties, and is rolling out iPhone, Blackberry and Android apps so that listeners can stream its content to their mobile devices.

“Even though we only have 15 apps on the iPhone and Blackberry platforms available so far, we have seen tens of thousands of downloads for our mobile player,” Shelley says. “Even before we started promoting these apps, 23,000 had been downloaded by listeners who had discovered them online.”

As far as Dan Shelley is concerned, the Web is a natural extension of any station.

“At Radio One, we pride ourselves on interviewing every major black artist who comes into our markets. And when they are here, we conduct separate video interviews with them as well. Those videos draw in more people, and give our radio DJs something more to talk about on air. The result is that the two feed each other.”

Interactivity is at the heart of its multi-platform strategy, not just via exclusive online content but interactive sites such as Interactive One’s BlackPlanet.com.

“BlackPlanet is the world’s oldest social network,” says Shelley. “It’s a place where black men and women can interact in cyberspace, and where we can reinforce the utility of our brands to them.”

According to Radio One’s research, BlackPlanet.com attracts adults 18–34, with a 45 percent male/55 percent female mix. Other Interactive One sites include TheUrbanDaily.com (entertainment news), NewsOne.com (news), HelloBeautiful.com (lifestyle; targeted at Africa-American women), GiantLife.com (music and lifestyle) and Evel8.com (health, gospel music and inspiration).

The company might be more aptly named Multi-Platform One. But beyond this diversity is a noteworthy integration: The platform divisions work with one other, to derive the most benefit from content and distribution.

“In fact, Radio One’s Digital Division is housed at the Interactive One headquarters,” Shelley says. “This allows us to work together very closely, and to provide cross-platform consistency and performance.”

Radio One’s success in the multi-platform arena offers some lessons:

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Dan Shelley First, such a strategy must have buy-in all the way up. At Radio One, Cathy Hughes, the chairperson, founder and secretary, and Alfred C. Liggins III, CEO, president and treasurer, “are solidly behind our approach,” Shelley says. “Having this level of support makes a big difference in making things happen.”

Second, real money must be devoted to mobile and Web platforms. This is what has happened at Radio One, resulting in the Interactive One division that has so many viable Web properties.

Third, broadcasters must stop defining themselves in terms of technology distribution and focus instead on content. That’s the approach that Radio One has taken, which is why it has such a solid stake in the Web and wireless.

Though the radio business has been bumpy and Radio One has seen its share of those troubles, the company’s online revenue has been a bright spot. Liggins said in the company’s latest financial statement, “Our Internet business continues to grow, with revenues up 24 percent this quarter compared to the third quarter of 2009, and we continue to believe that our online platform will be a major source of revenue and EBITDA growth for the future.”

When some other form of technology arrives, you can expect the Radio One brand to migrate there too. “We are defined by what we offer you,” Shelley says; “not by how we get it to you.”

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