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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Programming Playbook 2023: 'Set Yourself On Fire, Do Something!' – Inside Radio

The art and science of programming were on display last week when a quartet of accomplished corporate programmers took the stage at NAB Show New York. The agenda: how they develop air talent and make their content accessible to more people in new and different ways; the increasingly complex role of the program director; and why it might be a good idea to “light yourself on fire” once in a while.
For the big platform companies like iHeartMedia and Audacy, the opportunity is extending the reach of their on-air talent. “You serve it up live, and then you make sure it has life after that and the audience will be there,” said Thea Mitchem, Executive VP of Programming at iHeart. “You have to make it easy for them to find it.” Audacy makes available on demand what Executive VP and Head of Programming Jeff Sottolano called “versioned content,” along with new original digital-only programming. The key, he said, is not letting the magic that happened on the air “die on the vine.” Audacy’s Radio Rewind feature, for example, allows people to “use radio like a DVR –chaptering, unblocking topic-based content that happened on the air,” he said. “If someone has an interest in a TV show or a sports team, they can search for that on our platform, and then use that as the entryway to one of our talent or one of our brands,” Sottolano said.
Rewarding talent for their digital output has become a priority at Beasley Media Group, where Chief Content Officer Justin Chase said they realigned bonuses to include digital metrics in addition to Nielsen ratings. Digital performance is also factored into bonus structures for Beasley programmers and managers. Raddio One has set goals for social reach and digital views for talent and replaced some personalities that weren’t meeting them. “There has to be an existence of you in the digital space,” said Colby Colb, Senior VP of Programming at Radio One and sister syndication arm Reach Media.
The panel, moderated by McVay Media Consulting President Mike McVay, agreed that developing new air talent has never been more important. Mitchem said iHeart has a coaching system for personalities, but she also identifies new talent that are digitally adept with strong social followings but may have never cracked a mic. The development process starts with “basic training,” such as working with the best board ops and sitting in with top on-air talent. “I also utilize podcasting and social as a chance for them to develop personality,” Mitchem said. “These young people are not the next generation; they are thee generation.”
Multilayered Programming Jobs
It’s not just on-air jobs that have gotten harder. When Sottolano said the role programmers play has never been more complicated, heads nodded in the audience. “We’ve asked them to become experts in everything and in some cases, not always provided them all the support that they need,” he said. “And that’s been a big shift in our organization – you don’t have to be the expert in everything. You may not want to learn about encoding and processing, and that’s okay because we have someone who will do that for you.”
With music commoditized by its availability in so many places, the role of on-air talent has taken on even greater importance. Chase predicted the ongoing trend of personality teams outside of morning drive will only strengthen, especially as music licensing fees grow in lock step with more online listening.
With many of its stations carrying syndicated shows in morning drive, Radio One’s prime daypart for high engagement personalities is afternoon drive, while nights have become a talent proving ground. “You got to find them, grow them and move them, but it happens so fast,” Colb said. “They could do one or two things in social media or one show that goes viral that can dynamically change a talent overnight in the market.
Mitchem drew a distinction between “jocks” and “personalities,” singling out Angela Yee as one of the latter. When “The Breakfast Club” cohost gets her own syndicated midday show in January, she won’t be playing 12 songs an hour. Mitchem said it will be an interactive, multi-platform show that includes radio, social, YouTube and other outlets.
Sottolano went as far as saying “the jock job is obsolete. It doesn’t exist anymore.” Talent today need the skills to engage with people in-person, on-air, across platforms and in sales situations. “I would much rather take a risk on a raw talent, that is unpolished but has a lot of upside, than a seasoned jock,” he said.
Despite the increasingly difficult multilayered jobs of air talent and programmers, the panel stressed the importance of keeping fun in the job. Mitchem said she can tell whether a station is winning or losing by the vibe in the hallways. Chase said the industry needs to get back to doing “fun things, promotions, stunts, charity events that are more meaningful in the community” and draw attention to the brand. Colb put it more bluntly: “Set yourself on fire. Do something! We’re not a shift at Walmart.”

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