September 9, 2014
Last week, Cumulus Media announced a new organizational structure (NET NEWS, 9/4) that included the departure of longtime co-COO JOHN PINCH; a new title for co-COO John Dickey, now EVP/Programming; new duties for Westwood One's Steve Shaw; as well as the search for a new EVP/Radio.
That announcement quoted Cumulus Media Chairman/Pres./CEO Lew Dickey: "Our vision has been to build the radio company of the future and that is exactly what we are achieving. Towards that end, we have strategically broadened the Company's scope and now have in place differentiated distribution channels and multiple content-development platforms. To accelerate our plans, we are putting in place a new organizational structure to reflect the Company's strategic evolution, bringing clarity, focus and accountability to key leadership roles in both our station and network groups."
All Access caught up with John Dickey for an exclusive interview to elicit some additional clarity on what this all means for the fast-growing company in terms of programming, ratings, the NASH brand, its digital strategy with Rdio and how it's all affected by current economics.
Tell us about the transition in the structure and why now, versus next year.
This was something to get to and the time was right. It signals that the integration of the Citadel stations and the Citadel Network, and recently Westwood One, is now behind us and we are now in operating mode. We are bigger than ever and it was time to lay in the right structure to help us run this company for the future.
John is retiring after 40 years in radio and a long run with us since 2000. He's got a big family and a lot of grandkids he's looking forward to spending time with. We are indebted to him for his help. He was invaluable. We have done a lot together and it's been a lot of work. And John will be available to us on special projects.
In the new structure, Westwood One Pres. Steve Shaw will oversee network spot sales, network digital and developmental digital under Westwood One. This gives us one story and one brand to take into the national marketplace.
Steve reports to Lew. He is a great motivator and a great recruiter who understands our business and has a deep sales background. I am thrilled with what Steve is doing.
You're going outside the company for the new EVP/Radio. What prompted the company to do a search rather than maintain the status quo? What kind of person are you looking for?
We wanted to canvas the country, with the help of executive search firm Spencer Stuart, for the best person possible to lead our stations' sales efforts. This person will have a full focus on maximizing all of our efforts as they tie into local markets and how we can integrate with our national platforms.
We've already identified some terrific candidates and are very excited about what this new position in the company can bring to our stations and their future growth and potential.
Between Steve and this new EVP/Radio, we will have solid clarity and focus on who takes what to market.
How will your role in programming be different then it has been of late?
JD: The COO title is fast disappearing from companies and my old title never truly reflected what my duties are. My focus is on all content and programming on all platforms. This will put us in a terrific position to take advantage of our scale and influence. We are very excited to explore these opportunities with content partners.
I love working with the labels and our relations with them continue to expand. I so enjoy the growth we are seeing in our NASH and NASH ICON lifestyle entertainment brands, our content partners, and the progress that we are seeing with Rdio, as well as at the local station level in terms of the new programming and on-air talent we've been able to attract.
We are almost up to a three share for Blair Garner and America's Morning Show at NASH in New York, which is a lot of progress for us in one of the toughest markets.
Will the role of Mike McVay change? And will there be additional management layers added to the national programming department?
Yes. Mike is doing a wonderful job our SVP/Corporate Programming. He is truly my right hand man. And he is overseeing the day-to-day with our PDs and Brand Managers. It's very competitive in the over 90 markets we operate in. He will also grow in responsibility as time moves on, and he's been a huge help in hiring some of the terrific new programmers and on-air talent who have recently joined Cumulus. They will all have opportunities to grow with us.
Is political revenue what you expected this year? Is it breaking late? Is it breaking the way you thought it would?
You have to look at this segment historically. And the bulk has yet to come in, so it's no shocker or surprise to us. Look for the majority of the political advertising to be coming in over the next two weeks.
A growing number of radio companies are now slashing spot loads to increase ratings. Is that in your future?
We are very focused on making sure we are not overloading on spots. What's the inflection
point? No one knows but there is one. There is a huge difference between 10 minutes an hour and 16 minutes an hour. We are more aware than ever that we need to keep the radio listening experience for our stations clean and fun.
NASH is being launched on O&O stations throughout the U.S., you have a magazine, and a real Nashville presence. On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you say the NASH rollout is?
Rather than give a number to it, I'd say that NASH is tracking as expected for us as to where we are in terms of development and of the content. We are very happy with the growth. America's Morning Show is now in 30 markets and Nashville Nights Live is on in 90 markets. We are making great headway.
We have some exciting news to share ... the NASH brand will begin to be syndicated outside of Cumulus beginning in January, 2015.
And the NASH ICON brand is already showing some nice numbers, and beginning in October, it will be available as a 24/7 format via Kirk Stirland and his team at Westwood One.
Rdio is in an increasingly crowded on-demand, part-subscription model digital music field. What are you doing to differentiate it from others? If they all basically offer similar music selections in similar freemium formats, how will Rdiobe competitive?
The key there is that here are a billion smartphones and more coming to market every day. And from all of the services so far, there are only 25 million paid subscriptions. We see that as huge market opportunity. The space is huge. There is room for three or four companies to be successful and we plan on being one of them.
We are not looking to succeed at the expense of others -- we are focused on our own brand.
Our deal is up with iHeart at the end of the year, and we are very excited about our growing Rdio integration.
It's no secret - listeners are favoring streaming music over ownership, and having this partnership with Rdio gives Cumulus a huge gateway to the future.
With many of the large radio companies going to more national platforms, is there a chance this concept won't work? And if so, what are the alternatives?
The whole argument is this: TV is nationally provided and has been for years. The only live and local TV is news in the biggest DMAs. Great content is about the quality of the product. Research shows that if what they hear is good content, listeners are indifferent to where it comes from. Most never realize it's not local.
However, the ability for the station to interact locally with a national show is still key. I truly believe that the best product always wins. We are in a position to invest in a far bigger budget to help market locally and nationally with all of our programming.
And the Stork Technology that we use today to localize our 24/7 content is amazing. It gives it that local feel with localized content. "Live and local" sounds great as a slogan but at the end of the day it's great content that wins.
What do you see as the future of the Talk format? With numbers for Cumulus' AM Talkers down, how committed are you to the format?
We are 100% committed to the Talk format and have some terrific Talk brands. Look, the demos in America are moving up - not down, and those 45+ listeners represent a sweet spot for us and will always have a place in our format and content offerings.
We know that some Talk shows have a very negative perception. And ratings for many Talk shows are at historic lows.
We rang the bell two years back about this and we were right. There is a problem with the format. Cumulus is committed and focused on investing in talent with an eye toward helping evolve the Talk format and find a new way forward. There is never a straight line to finding your way out of a problem. Talk radio doesn't need reinvention, it needs an evolution.
In a similar vein, is AM radio part of Cumulus' future? Is AM doomed, or is there life in the band?
Over time. AM will become less relevant but I'm not sure of the timeline. It will, because of market culture and topography, still have importance in many markets such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and so many more. In these key markets we'll continue to work to make sure that the best programming is available.
At the end of the day, Cumulus has so much momentum, and with our new structure, we're all excited about a solid Q4 and a very exciting 2015 ahead, as we channel all of our energy and focus into providing the best for our company, audience and clients.
Look for many more exciting things to happen with Cumulus in the coming months, and in the year ahead.