July 14, 2015
In an era of consolidation and bottom-line efficiencies, WWCD/Columbus is the little station that can. Owned and hands-on operated by Randy Malloy, CD102.5 does it the old-fashioned way, with a local on-air staff and fully-staffed promotion and marketing departments. Yet they're now attempting to acquire their license a new-fashioned way - via crowdfunding. Here, Malloy describes the reasoning behind that and how CD102.5 continues to be a viable alternative to the corporate status quo.
What were you doing before you acquired WWCD?
I actually started at WWCD CD101 as an intern when I was in college in 1991. I was one of the very first interns at the station. Then I got hired on as Asst. Promotion Director, then I became Promotion Director ... then Asst. Marketing Director, then Marketing Director, then OM and then eventually GM. When the old ownership wanted to sell the company after 20 years in 2010, I talked to my family and the staff, and I decided I wanted to keep doing this. We made an offer and negotiated the intellectual property of then-CD101.1 and officially leased it in January of 2011.
I basically wanted to continue doing the thing I love and worked at for 20 years. I felt and still feel that this, radio, has meaning and value. Radio is the original social network -- a trusted friend who'll tell you what cool bands you should be listening to, and what cool events you should attend. That's how I've always interpreted radio ... as part of the community, with a life of its own.
When did you realize that the license would be a problem?
It actually was never a problem. I was aware of it when I first got involved at end of 2010 and 2011. We put together a five-year plan, listing action items that had to get done in five years. One was physically moving the location of our studio from 503 to 1036 S. Front Street, which was about a half-mile south. It wasn't like moving a hardware store where all we had to do was empty the shelves. It cost a lot money. We had to engineer the thing so we didn't have to go off the air for six weeks. Another was moving our frequency from 101.1 to 102.5.
This was also happening at a time when the whole PPM thing came into play. We went from the diary to PPM in Columbus, which was a huge changeover. Unfortunately, during this same period of time, our longtime PD and afternoon-drive DJ Andy "Andyman" Davis passed away; Lesley James, who was working at the station already, became the Interim PD and she eventually became PD and is still.
Last on the list was to secure the license, which we've been leasing all this time. So it wasn't a shock that snuck up on us. We saw it coming; we just had to figure out how to get enough money to do this within the next five years.
When did the crowdfunding notion come up?
About two years ago, we started to talk about crowdfunding options. We started our thoughts with Kickstarter, then we saw other funding options like Indiegogo, so we weren't just single-minded. We looked at a variety of options and about a year ago, we began to look in earnest and said, "Okay this is a viable option." If we pay attention and do this properly, we can do this; public radio does it all the time. It's their business model. Obviously, we're a commercial radio station, but like public radio, we work closely with the community. We have a really strong vibe, not just with Columbus listeners, but in terms of our indie spirit in alternative music. So about six months ago, we finally decided, "Let's do it. Let's choose the dates," and four months ago, we built a team and started the process. It's a 60-day campaign with an initial goal of $1 million and a stretch goal of $5 million.
In terms of reaching your goal, are you primarily focusing on raising money locally, or are you soliciting for funds on a national scale?
We're absolutely going national. We talked to national artists and have gotten a huge amount of support from the music community, from both record labels and bands. The bands understand our appeal. They can tell the difference when they walk into our studio and meet the owner -- me -- who asks them if they want something to drink, and even tells them there's a laundry here to do their clothes. They appreciate our hospitality and the fact that we really play their music and have developed strong relationships with them over their careers. It's a special partnership.
It's funny ... I hear stories of PDs at other stations not taking calls from label reps to talk music and I chuckle to myself. It's like walking into a car lot and getting upset when the dealer asks, "Can I help you?" It's the same thing with the record industry; they're just doing their job -- bringing you new music. You don't have to like the record any more than you have to buy the car a dealer shows you. That's your choice, but why ignore those trying to do their jobs? We always take their calls because we want to create relationships - and it's our choice to say if the music fits our format or not
So how's the crowdfunding going so far?
We raised $45,000 in the first 24 hours. If we keep that pacing every day, we'd raise $2.7 million. Heck, if we could get every member of our listening audience to donate $25, we'd get close to $4 million. But when you add the national community of indie fans, we potentially could generate tens of millions. Not that we expect to get tens of millions, but we're trying to do something we believe in, which is important not just for our community, but the indie and alternative music community as a whole. They appreciate the fact that we often provide the first opportunity to hear bands that may not get that opportunity at other stations. Remember, every national band was a local band at one time, and someone had to play their music for the first time. That first radio person who says, "This is great," spreads the word. Our role is to take a chance on new bands and help them get that exposure.
It's the same idea when we talk to potential advertising clients. We tell them, "We're gasoline, you're a fire ... we'll help you burn bigger and brighter. We're here to enhance it and make it larger. That's what we do ... use our radio broadcast as the client's megaphone, to expose their positive messages.
Do you have a backup plan in case you don't reach any of your goals?
Yes, we will renegotiate our lease and keep trying. Here's the reasoning behind this: If you go to the bank and ask if you can borrow $5 million, the bank is going to ask what collateral you have and also demand that you have 25% or more to put down. If I don't have that, they ask you politely to leave and there's no further discussion. We're trying to get enough money to secure a loan from a financial institution using the support from contributors, and if we raise enough money, just buy the license outright. We have a lease that expires in 18 months, which we're renegotiating while we do this. At the very least, we hope to be able to renegotiate a better price. That's our backup plan. But because we want to control our own destiny and be a truly independent station, our goal is to own our broadcast license.
We're already a viable business that makes money, but we're just one mom-&-pop small business. We don't have 10 other stations to use as collateral. We're one of the last standalone indies; we don't have a corporate benefactor. We're one little radio station trying to swim upstream. It's been a struggle, but if you ask anyone on my staff, they understand that's the way it is. Of course it's hard, but no one bitches about it. It's our job we believe it's worth it because we feel we can make a difference.
Earlier, you mentioned about transitioning from the diary to PPM. How did that impact WWCD?
It's funny. We believe -- and have for years - that we have a phantom cume. When we were under the diary, respondents had to have a landline. But we felt that a good chunk of our Alternative audience were early adopters to cellphones and didn't have landlines. We were missing them in the first place. The methodology has always been flawed for our purposes; our audience goes to concerts, supports restaurants, bars and microbreweries. We knew we had a strong cume because even though our numbers weren't huge, our concerts would sell out and our advertisers got phenomenal results time and time again. It couldn't be a fluke. Simply put, the methodology doesn't reach our audience lifestyle.
Our extremely mobile audience can hurt on PPM, too, because 1) our audience may go to places and aren't tuning into our station since they are out; and 2) we're a niche format. We will never play the few hits that most everyone wants to hear over and over again. We're not going to compete with the Top 40s and Hot ACs of the world.
We do see less waves across the bow with the PPM than we did before. Our numbers are a bit more stabilized over the long term, but we'll still lose a third of our audience in one month, then get them right back the next. It's hard to convey that to advertisers who don't look at much other than the fact that we went down in the latest period. We don't get to explain that to the agencies; they don't care about anything other than negotiating the best deals for their clients.
Is it enough to attract advertisers by proving yourself through results than getting high ratings?
Every advertiser wants results and a good ROI. They want to believe their marketing is working, and they're looking at what happens to the audience they're trying to attract. But multiple factors go into their advertising decisions. Some advertisers want to see more people come through their doors. Other advertisers are all about maximum exposure and spreading their message. It's important to know that every advertiser is unique. They all have different desires and needs. We try to assess what their needs are and what they're trying to accomplish, then customize what we do for them, be it on-air testimonials, appearances, or any other promotional connection. What sets us apart is that we employ a full-time staff, both on-air and in the marketing and promotion departments, from separate marketing and promotion directors to part-time kids who go to the events. The problem today is that the corporate radio business model doesn't allow for that. Too many radio stations don't have a large promo crew anymore; many of their DJs are voicetracked from out of town, and some of them are even programmed from somewhere else.
You mentioned that you listen to label reps who come to you with new music. Labels aren't putting out as much product as they used to; have you had to adjust how you discover new music and how your listeners get turned on to it?
It's interesting. We go to a lot of concerts and do lot of low-dough shows with baby bands - and we're still able to sell out venues of a couple thousand, so there's an interest in new music. It's true that a lot of new bands don't get as much exposure, but we keep up by talking to our audience at our events. And when we talk to the younger audience, we find out that they still use radio to help them discover music - and when they hear a great band or song, they'll be on the computer 10 seconds later to find out more about the band, where they're from, what other music they put out, etc.
By promoting these bands and giving them exposure, not only do we get more listeners, but these bands come into town and find out they sold more tickets here in Columbus than they did in a city the size of New York -- because we play them for months before the first big-market radio station plays them. We were the first playing Walk The Moon, who happen to be from here, and they just opened for the Rolling Stones.
Is it more important for CD102.5 to break new bands considering the way radio and other media break bands these days?
It's funny. We've never really changed. We never got into this business to be a tastemaker or break bands, but it has organically grown into that over the past 25 years. Bottom line: We want to listen to good music no matter where we find it. And as I said before, the record labels we talk to are really good at knowing what to bring us to check out. It's the same with indie labels. They're all really smart; that's why stations should take their phone calls. It's a really interesting symbiotic relationship that exists between us, to the point where we feel quite comfortable within the realm of the music industry, and understanding our role as partners to help bring these artists to light, while at the same time, help our audience discover new music.
What are your and the station's future goals? Would you be happy just being a successful niche station, or would you like to become a major player in Columbus?
We'd always love to be more popular. Who doesn't want to be King and Queen of the prom? But we're realistic ... we're a stand-alone, mom-and-pop station that reaches a loyal tribe of listeners who strongly support us. We're not able to or try play everything; if we tried to be everything to everyone, we'd be nothing to no one. Of course, we'd like to be more successful with advertisers, but if we have to live and die by only ratings it will always be an uphill battle.
We don't have a 300-song rotation like some other commercial stations. We have a 900-song rotation, so we're not going to give you tons of repetition. It's not like you're going to hear the same song every other hour. Now some people really want to hear their favorite song every time they turn on the radio; they're not going to get that with us.
We also understand that not all the bands we'll take a chance on will be hugely successful. Every band we play is not going to become the next Muse, the next Foo Fighters or Black Keys. We know that and that's okay; we're comfortable with that because we don't wait until the songs are tested and has 100,000 downloads to play them. It it's a good song to us, we'll play it. And that's what we're going to continue to do.