February 24, 2015
It must be fun starting over for Dean Goodman, who after overseeing Gilmore Broadcasting before working with Bud Paxson at Paxson/ION Communications, cashed out to start his own radio/multimedia company, now called Digity. Even in today's digital media environment, he's building Digity by adhering to a local-centric approach created through collaborative means -- and not from the top-down. Here, Goodman describes the current radio environment and how Digity intends to grow.
When you were at PAX, when did you realize the time was right for you to go out on your own again?
I don't believe there was a time at PAX when I wanted to go into radio on my own. PAX, as you may remember, originally started as a radio company. When I joined up with Bud, I was operating Gilmore Broadcasting, which was merged into Paxson. We originally started with a radio company, which we built into a fairly large media company. We added a large billboard company, acquired the Travel channel and started to buy a number of network affiliate TV stations -- and then independent TV stations. After that, we sold the billboard company, the Travel channel and the radio stations in order to build a larger TV network, the largest TV station group and TV content creation.
My roots go back to radio broadcasting, so after Bud and I left PAX, I bought a few radio stations and decided to grow another communications company. It'll also be a radio/TV, digital and events company. We're building the radio side first, but the company will eventually grow into the TV side as well.
Is building a radio company today much different than it was when you did it years ago?
No, the only real difference is in the banking environment, which has changed, but changes in the banking environment are cyclical. They always go through changes through the years. The biggest difference is that when I originally bought radio stations before 1996, I could only buy a limited number of radio stations. The Telecommunications Act allowed me own both radio and TV properties, as well as buy more radio stations, both nationally and locally in a given market.
Judging by your acquisitions -- primarily medium and small-market stations with a handful in the suburbs of major markets -- would it be fair to say that you're building a local-centric radio group?
Pretty much. We're focused in on very local-centric stations that get heavily involved with lot of local events. In terms of formats, we offer a diverse array of popular music formats from Urban and Country to AC, with a few Rock and Top 40s thrown in. But if there's one thing that really ties them all together, it's the significant amount of local focus.
How does a Digity station compete against the clout of a big-group station?
Our advantage in part is in being small, we can make strategic decisions and modifications very quickly, in that there's just handful of people who are really are involved in the corporate operations and the decision making process. Additionally being highly local-centric, you have to give a lot of autonomy out to the local markets, which in many cases, stations owned by the larger companies don't have.
How does the programming of a Digity station differ from that of a large-group station in a major market?
One example: We can offer a "small can be big" approach at our suburban Chicago stations in that even though we cumulatively have similar ratings as the downtown stations, while they have to cater to the entire Chicago market, we can focus 100% on our local communities. Much of what we do is live and local, both on-air sales-wise and community event-wise. Our digital efforts complement our focus when to support our events.
What kind of promotions work best with a live-and-local focus?
We do a variety of contesting; cash contesting, in one form or the other, still works, as do really good lifestyle contests where you can give listeners the change to get things they couldn't get on their own -- backstage passes, meet-and-greets and going to events out of town to a desired location. They all still work ... if the contest is done well and integrated with social, on-air, web and advertising partners.
How would you describe Digity's digital presence?
We are on Tunein, Clip and a number of other national services. Of course, our radio stations have their own websites and are distributed on their own platforms.
How do your local air personalities fare against all the syndicated and voicetracked personalities on the big-group competition?
Generally in radio, local programs that are consistent with our markets, when done well, do better than national syndication. In markets where we compete against the national syndicated talent, we get better ratings.
Radio, in general, has seen little, if any revenue growth in the past year or two, certainly nowhere near the 7-10% growth rate of its heyday. Considering the way the world is these days, is it foolhardy to even set double-digit revenue growth goals? Can you be satisfied with low single-digit growth?
Well, I believe there's definitely room to do double-digit growth in areas where you're starting from zero ... in those cases you can experience that kind of growth. That's certainly not the rule. I will say that you can prevail with single-digit growth in spot sales and double-digit digital and event growth. We are still a high-margin business. Our growth continues to be superior to many radio operations, but there's always room to do better.
After acquiring NextMedia and other groups, how much bigger would you like Digity to be?
I don't know if I can answer that question. I aspire to generate rational growth for the company; just how large a company is dependent upon market availability and cost. So while I don't know how big we'll become, we will always be making rational acquisitions that will be right for our company.
Larry Wilson's Alpha Broadcasting, Townsquare and Digity seem to represent a new - well, more like "renewed" - generation of radio owners who are building groups that can compete against the conglomerates. Do you feel you are revitalizing the radio industry?
I would love to think of myself as part of a "new generation," as I should think Larry would as well, but for both of us, this is not our first rodeo. For me, it's more like a continuation of the career I've had most of my life. After I got into management, I started building broadcasting companies. I think I'm still doing what I used to do.
One of things we do at Digity is be very internally transparent relative to our employees. We like to make our employees a real part of our growth in a variety of ways, to integrate them into our major decisions. That enables everyone to get a good look at all the different options and then to vote on which way to go. The idea is to really make this less and less a top-down company, and more and more of a collaborative company. We get a significant amount of good, workable ideas from people who can make us more effective and generate more revenue. That's the cornerstone of Digity's operations, which we continue to try to perfect over time. It's what I aspire to do: get involvement by more than the managers at the station level, but by as many folks as you can. You're going to open up with a better company, with happier employees ... and a more profitable company.
For the past few months, there have been rumors of either Digity merging with another radio group (such as Alpha), or with Digity going public with an IPO. Are you considering either ... and how would that impact your company and its employees?
One of the best companies I had the opportunity to be a part of, as COO/President at the time, was PAX in the early stages, when we were public and every employee had stock and a piece of company. So being a public company, if done right, can be a benefit, but it's also a lot more work. If it's done right, rationally structured for us, then it's a good idea and something we'll do. Insofar as that being a focus of the company ... no. The focus of our company is to improve the operations as I discussed earlier -- improve the number of quality special events we're doing, improve our digital platform. These things we do every day. If the occasion arises, we'll make rational acquisitions as they come along. I don't think that we have any specific focus on being public or not being public. If it's right, it'll happen.
After all these years, do you still see a long-range future in radio?
I have a four-year-old child and by the time that four-year-old goes to college, tuition could be $1 million, so I need to make some bucks. I'm sort of kidding, but I love what I do and I really don't have any limit as to how long as I want to be doing this. Every day for me is a great day. The broadcasting business has been good to me through the years. As a poor kid with no family, getting into this by getting a job on the air (I could talk) and in air conditioning (no sweat job in Florida), I was grateful. It has always been really good to me; I've had a lot of incredible opportunities, I continue to love it and I don't have any reason to stop.