April 17, 2012
Buzz Knight has spent a decade helping Greater Media, a "family-owned company," survive and prosper in the land of radio group giants. He came to the company as a noted PD who enjoyed success in Boston, Norfolk, Columbus, OH and New York City. Combining a station PD's eye view has helped him oversee programming throughout Greater Media, balancing localism with successful group strategies. Here, Knight explains how he does it ...and how Greater Media navigates through the turbulent waters of technological change.
As part of one of the "smaller" radio groups (compared to Clear Channel and Cumulus), what are the keys for Greater Media's success today?
Our keys to success are a great leadership tone set by Chairman/CEO Peter Smyth; a great culture at each local cluster set by the market managers; a great crop of programmers who live and breathe great local radio; and a great team of talent great who have cultivated great relationships with listeners in each market and great results for clients. We aim to foster a culture that tries to find better ways to engage all of them.
Greater Media is an extremely collaborative organization, and when you work in that process with a real team approach, ultimately all the strategies you put through that process are driven out of the local station and generate positive results.
Do you find Greater Media competing against the others on a station-by-station basis, market-by-market basis or group by group?
We compete both on a station-to-station and market-to-market basis. We strive to seize every opportunity to win in every market -- and to do that we customize our strategic approach to fit each market.
Is the competition between stations and groups greater than ever - or less competitive due to consolidation?
It's just as competitive as ever. I have great respect and admiration for all of our competitors and clearly believe that we at Greater Media put our best competitive foot forward every day. The competition is very tight, but ultimately great competition leads to a better product.
Do you feel Pandora, online radio and hi-tech toys are legitimate competition you have to strategize against ... or is it essentially just a part of the environment?
The future is now, and in a world that's changing so rapidly, all competition is part of the environment. When you really analyze the future dashboard, digital and online technology is really going to hit the gas pedal harder in terms of the environmental change that exists with all the competition. Yet none of this changes the importance of each of our brands. We have to push the concept of turning good to great and making great even greater.
How do you execute that concept?
It's just in the level of excellence to strive for, because when you see the stark reality of what you know is coming down the road - especially on where the dashboard is going - you have to be ready to respond to any of the changes. That's why I still enjoy being able go to the CES show every year. I love seeing where the future is going and how rapidly things are changing. When I see that every year, it becomes a rallying cry within our own organization on how to push good to great and great to even greater.
There's been a debate between "live and local" and syndicated/voicetracked. Obviously, Greater Media uses both local and syndicated talent, but is there a proper mixture that works best nationwide, or is it a market-by-market thing?
All stations decide that on an individual basis, so we don't have a one-size-fits-all approach. Obviously, we emphasize local talent to help us entrench ourselves in the market, but there are times when syndication can bring great value to our brand.
Do you promote and market local talent when it's up against national or syndicated talent?
In the culture of our company, if live talent is part of a particular brand asset, we're certainly not afraid to promote those assets. It could mean a lot in certain situations. It depends on our relationship with the talent and how we use them on-air and in the marketplace. It's really part of asset value and one that we're very proud of as a company.
At this point, do you feel your programmers have a complete and confident grip on what it takes to successfully program under the PPM?
Our company took part in the initial tests in Philadelphia in 2002 when it was in beta, so yeah, I feel confident that there is a way to program to it. Having said that, all of our programmers are very open to anything new that may crop up. New, eye-opening lessons and subtleties with the PPM can frequently occur.
Have your feelings about the PPM - from the early beta days to now - changed in terms of how it impacts your stations?
At the beginning and still to this day, I come away with the feeling that as much as technology has changed things, it all still comes back to great brand management and a meticulous attention to detail in managing those brands. As much as the PPM changed certain things that required an adaptation in your thought process, in many respects very little has change. It's still about things that make great radio tick -- great content from great personalities who have a great understanding of the market. That's the localism that's really important is the ability to always build your programming to the point where your listeners feel that if they miss a day from your station, they feel like they've missed a lot.
Greater Media joined iHeartradio. What are the advantages of doing that, and how do you respond to those who say the more who go on it, the less impact you'll have?
Our position was and still is to have a credible place to give our roster stations an opportunity to be heard within the dashboard. In addition to thinking about our content, we're continuously trying to get our stations through all the other distribution points that exist, whether it is through the apps our stations have or any place where there's an opportunity to be heard by the largest available audience.
Joining iHeartradio was a decision that was based on knowing where the future is going, and knowing that we are now in an era where even though there's competition among the companies, we've all become what is known as "frenemies." Competition is still at the heart of great radio, but we're still out to make our imprint as solid as possible. So while we know we compete with Clear Channel in all markets, we also know they've done quality great work within iHeartradio. For our company, we find having that relationship is a great advantage.
Obviously, social media continues to be THE buzzword. What separates those who talk the talk and those who walk the walk?
First and foremost, it's realizing how quickly everything is changing. Knowing that we're in a rapidly changing world, we're embracing change, the emerging technologies and the opportunities they create. It starts there in terms of the process and the learning experience. Then it's thinking about brands and about how to use social media to extend your brands' relationships within the marketplace and really work the angles that allow great content to be shared more frequently. The easier you make your content available to the consumer, the greater the opportunity to grow.
For me, it's really important to embrace a spirit of openness, in deepening your relationship with the audience ... and really understanding that relationship. We really try to work it on a daily basis
There's been a debate on whether to stream exactly what's being broadcast terrestrially ... or to stream something unique. Where do you and Greater Media stand on that?
We're in the spirit of studying and evaluating the best ways to exploit the new platforms; we're trying to see where the best opportunities lie for our brands and our marketplaces. Streaming what's being broadcast terrestrially certainly has been the prevalent model, but we're always open to experimentation. We're open to any new ideas that serve the marketplaces more effectively.
In a way, do you believe streaming unique programming is akin to HD sub-channels?
That's an interesting way to look at it. We want every station to create local teams to work together on new ideas and concepts. It's the spirit of this company -- really since inception. There has always been that spirit of openness and collaboration.
How do you see the mix of analog/online broadcasting shaking out, in terms of generating revenue and exposure in the future?
I don't know. Wherever our assets are being transmitted, we certainly need to figure out the best methods to generate revenue and in the process, generate satisfaction for our customers. I think the future is in front of us; it's a wild ride and we just have to strap on and get ready for it, because what we see today vs. what we'll see next year at this time could be two completely different things. The universe ahead of us, to me, is what makes this business exciting.
After what happened to Rush Limbaugh and the way advertisers can get pressured and even intimidated by online pressure, have you discussed the implications of that to your programmers and air talent?
We closely align with talent and how they work with local management. There has always been a very strong sense of community here, so this subject always been an ongoing discussion. Our talent knows their role is to entertain, but they all know to a very great degree that we're in a business -- and they respect the business. We have an ongoing dialog about the relationship between our talent and their listeners, and what they should and shouldn't do to engage them is always included those discussions.
Talent development ... pool or puddle? Where will the new radio stars come from, when many kids seem to be more interested in other digital/online interests?
At every one of our stations and markets, we talk frequently about the best ways to build a bench. We have stations where that next person on the bench is someone doing overnights. It could be somebody who moves up ladder and gets to develop further within the bench at the station.
We also have to look for talent everywhere. There are still great college programs, and some great high school programs exist, too. There's talent online on Net radio, as well as in bloggers. Our eyes have to be open, to look everywhere to find wherever the next talent exists. We may have to look harder and be more open to those outside the business, but that's what we'll do.
Do you have to make the on-air job at least "look" more exciting to the uninitiated?
The concept of air talent today doesn't just include what we all grew up with and thought on-air personalities meant to be. Today, the role of talent includes developing a deeper relationship with an audience, deeper than what they say through a mic. With all the social applications available to us, we as an industry certainly have to continue to invest in talent, so those who are looking at this industry as an option can see where our interest lies.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but there really hasn't been a new music format or niche in a while. Is that a symptom of a somewhat stagnant music environment, or a reflection of corporate radio conservatism?
Radio is at the foreground of innovations. Our imaginations are only limited if we allow them to be. Everything follows certain cycles that exist in music. So the reality ends up being: What's the next cycle and when will it arrive? And just how many brand new formats really exist anyway? It actually depends on market needs and the conditions of the marketplace. I can't possibly look into the future and know what the next unique format will be, but once again it will happen when the audience calls for it.
You've been in the business for quite a while now. In general, are you more certain about the prospects for the future of radio or more uncertain ... and why?
I'm just as thrilled about the prospects for radio as I have in several years. We're in a terrific business that entertains the public, aids the public ... and satisfies clients on a regular basis. Having said all that, if we allow ourselves to be handcuffed by the challenges that relate to all the technological shifts happening, then we'll be limiting ourselves. We look at them all as opportunities, as ways to seize opportunities and harness our strengths. We always challenge teams to do something greater and create stickier content. That's why I'm here.