August 7, 2012
Even in these tumultuous days of radio, persistence can still pay off. It certainly has for Beverlee Brannigan, whose three decades in radio has led her to a VP/Programming post for the entire Journal Broadcast Group. Here, she offers her insight on how a smaller radio group handles the most pressing issues facing the industry today.
Since getting into radio over 30 years ago and programming a station for a couple decades, how do you see radio evolving over the years?
We've adjusted to the new economic realities of media in general. Things have changed for everyone -- listeners and the media they consume. As consumers changed their habits, radio has been forced to operate leaner. We've had to adjust to do more with less over the past 10 years.
In my case, I was the PD for Country stations for many years, but eventually I'd oversee six stations in a cluster, where I worked everything from Classic Rock and Oldies to Regional Mexican.
Have the listeners' habits changed because of the technology, or has the new technology shown how the listeners' tastes have remained constant over more platforms?
That's a great question. To some extent, although listener habits have changed because they have more choices, I still feel they want what they've always wanted. They want information to help them live their lives better; they also want to be entertained and be a part of something ... to be engaged. That part has not changed.
We have to find new ways to deliver what they want; we have to keep it fresh. How do we do that? By realizing they always want content to help them live their lives better. So it's up to us to stay in close contact with listeners in local markets -- and that's by talking to listeners to find out what they want. It's important for us to be creative and find new ways give them what they want.
What the best way to stay in touch in audience -- callout research, perceptuals, online polls, or one-to-one contact such as requests or live appearances?
All of the above. Ideally, it's best to use everything in the tool box -- traditional methods, online and getting face-to-face with listeners. We're lucky to have local staffs listening to our audiences and asking them what they like and don't like.
What's your view on the value of local programming in an era where there's more voicetracking and syndication?
We're very much emphasizing local radio, but more importantly, we're educating on the value of being "local" in all of our markets. While we occasionally do utilize voicetracking, we're focusing on local. That's where we need to be making connections and engaging the listeners to tell us what they want.
Are you concerned about the paucity of new talent and the time it takes to develop them into tomorrow's stars?
It does concern me. Some really talented people have gotten out of the business as their career options shriveled. The chances that they can work where they want and do what they want to do are dwindling, and the number of minor league opportunities and training grounds have disappeared. We used to train guys and gals on all night shows that don't exist anymore.
It puts a burden on us to be more effective recruiters, and to be better talent coaches -- to recognize talent in the raw, if you will. Now sometimes your training ground is through voicetracking or off-air training. You have to be a bit more creative in finding ways to bring people along. It's still do-able, but it's harder.
Who at Journal will be doing the recruiting and talent development? Will you have the time for it?
On a day-to-day basis, certainly the PDs in the local markets are going to be the guys and gals to do that, and I hope I can offer support to them. I preach the gospel on how important it is to do talent coaching and ongoing talent growth. When we hire someone we're committing to grow them and make them successful. I take that very seriously. And we always have to be assessing who we've got and who's coming up behind them ... who'll take their place when they leave for another opportunity. My specific duty here may be oversight, but talent development is always on my radar screen because that's a make-or-break proposition for our continued success.
This seems to be the first time you won't be hands-on programming a station. Will you miss the day-to-day programming you used to do?
I'm sure that I will miss the day-to-day, hands-on thing a bit, but the position I now have in Milwaukee includes being OM for Adult Hits Lake FM and News/Talk WTMJ; that's a big job right there, so I think I'll still be plenty involved in some of the day-to-day stuff. I do love Country radio I will be working regularly with Journal's Country station.
Do you feel there will be a feeling-out period for you as VP/Programming and OM for the Milwaukee stations?
Certainly there'll be a period when the Milwaukee team is getting to know me and I'm getting to know them. When I envision this job, I think it's like jumping on a moving treadmill. There's plenty of self-education I'll be doing to get up to speed. But again, my main duty is one of strategic oversight, to understand where we're going, then to do what I can to help and support them.
Is it harder for a station to maintain a top-ranked status than to start with a station at the bottom and thus have less pressure to succeed?
I don't know if would agree with that. I do know that maintaining a top-rated station takes a lot of effort. A top-rated station is always the biggest target in town. Everyone's gunning for you. But, in many markets, the ratings are so compacted it's very difficult to GET to the top when you're fighting for tenth-point here or a half-point there. It's tough either way, and whether you're at the top or in the middle or at the bottom, you need to be on your "A" game every day.
After programming for so long in Des Moines and Wichita, now you're OM in Milwaukee, which is your first PPM market. Have you changed your programming strategy for the PPM?
You pay attention to some different things in the PPM world than you do in the diary. Where top-of-mind-awareness rules in the diary markets, in the PPM world you're trying to get listeners to the next event. It's about the occasions. Besides the stylistic issues, in both worlds the bottom line is that you still have to deliver a great product. The style may be little bit different when you're working under the PPM or the diary, but you can't win with junk radio in either.
Are you one of those who believe Pandora, Net radio and the like are legitimate rivals on par with your radio competitors?
It would be silly to say they're not on my radar, as they're certainly competition in taking TSL when the people using my product are using theirs. So in that light, I've got to pay attention to them, but they really can't deliver what I deliver. I feel that radio is sufficiently differentiated; when we keep doing what we do to connect in real time with our audience, all they can do is play music. I worked in Kansas, and when the tornadoes came through, no one turned to Pandora. They turned on KFDI. That may be an extreme example, but radio can -- and should -- connect locally with its listeners on a daily basis.
As a woman who has been promoted to a VP/Programming post at a major radio group, do you feel any pride in shattering the so-called "glass ceiling," or do you prefer to be known as just a good programmer?
If my taking this position is encouraging other women to get into this industry and to keep working harder to succeed here, that would be fabulous; I'm all about that. But on a day-to-day basis, the gender thing just doesn't occur to me.
As a longtime Country programmer, what's your view on playing only the established artists to generate optimum ratings vs. playing new artist records to break the stars of tomorrow?
When I was at KFDI, our strategy was to attract a broad audience. Like most businesses, we're trying to please the largest number of people at any given time. So pleasing the largest number of people was probably more important to KFDI than breaking a new band.
But that doesn't mean we're not supportive of new music, because we are. We were one of the first stations in the country to play Taylor Swift, but we didn't play her as part of any specific music discovery campaign. We were out of the gate on Dustin Lynch recently because we were big believers. But in general we're out to play the best music available - and if it's from a new artist, great. Same for established artists.
Does being the first to play Taylor Swift, for instance, carry a certain cachet with Country listeners?
At all of our Journal stations, regardless of the music format, we're striving to play the best music on an ongoing basis. We're actively programming and deciding what the best music is. Sometimes it's a new song or band, sometimes it isn't. But do we do it for the sake of being first? No. Our goal is simply to play the best music, period.
What's Journal's policy when it comes to Twitter/Facebook exposure? Do you closely monitor your talent's Twitter and Facebook posts under the stations' umbrella, or are they more on their own?
We do a bit of both. We do social media from a station point of view, and our personalities have individual accounts that they do on their own, where people follow along with their lives.
So you're not worried about the blowback from an ill-advised Twitter?
That hasn't happened here, but I can see how it could happen. We have a reasonable team of people at all of our stations. The personalities doing social media are smart about what they put out there. They understand that they're being judged by what they say and how they're perceived as people. It's very important to express who they are so their listeners can better relate to them.
Although you just got into the VP/Programming chair at Journal, do you still have or set long-term goals for yourself?
You know, I'm really not the sort of person who does that. That's not how I navigated my career. I'm the kind of a person who wakes up every morning and thinks about how I can be excellent today, and what we can do as a team and what we can accomplish today. I think that when you do that every day, after a while you can stop for a moment and see what you created or accomplished. Whatever I do today will take me where I'm supposed to go. So in five years, who knows! I just hope to be able to look back and say, "Wow, we excelled over the past five years and achieved these goals." That'd make me very happy.