10 Questions with ... Sheila Eldridge
March 20, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
My professional broadcast career (after graduating from Howard University's School of Communications) begins at the legendary WHUR in Washington, DC. Following several years at 'HUR, I moved to Los Angeles stations KGFJ-A and KACE to broaden my experience and industry contacts. It was in LA working for Black Radio Exclusive magazine that I identified how important marketing and brand development was to any successful broadcast entity. I chose to continue my education and enrolled in UCLA's graduate extension program with a focus on marketing and crisis management.
I've always been an entrepreneur at heart so I started my first PR firm Orchid Communications, which ultimately expanded to Miles Ahead Entertainment (MAE). MAE provides specialized services in PR, special events, broadcast integration marketing and social media cross-promotions for both corporate and celebrities. Past and present clients include Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Sprint, Boost Mobile, Toyota, United Healthcare, Wells Fargo, En Vogue, Ray Allen, Terrell Owens as well as actors Idris Elba and Hosea Chanchez, to name a few.
Landing the (then) ABC Radio Networks as a client provided an invaluable opportunity to combine my varied skills in radio and brand marketing. Working with the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Doug Banks Morning Show and Michael Baisden Show gave me "key learning" from both a local and national perspective. This knowledge was the foundation for launching Miles Ahead Broadcasting a subsidiary of (MAE) to produce innovative and "niche' radio shows with multi-media platforms for national syndication with a local execution approach.
1. What was your first job in radio influences?
My first job in radio was as air personality and music research at WHUR. There are so many people at Howard University and WHUR who were influential in my career -- Andre Perry, Barry Mayo, Cathy Hughes, Dyana Williams and GM Jim Watkins. No one had more of an impact on my life and career than the legendary Hal Jackson who supported me sight unseen when I relocated to New York City. I probably wouldn't be in business today had it not been for Hal.
2. What made you decide on a radio business career? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
Growing up in Washington, D.C., I listened to WOL-A (the flagship station that Cathy Hughes built her empire on) and WOOK. At that time, radio had flavor had real "personalities." I loved the music and "creative environment" that was transmitted across the airwaves. After starting at WHUR, it was clear radio was a "passion" for me and I still welcome the challenge to keep the medium competitive in the marketplace.
3. If you were just starting out in radio, knowing now what you didn't then, would you still do it? What would you do differently?
We produce a "Radio Today" Pay it Forward tour visiting HBCU universities; one of the key points we share with students is they must be multi-faceted experts and create programming with brand extensions to be mobile with your listener and at their finger tips. We've come a long way and it's a exciting time to "think outside the box " .
4. What still excites you about radio, given the tough economy we're now facing?
The challenges of getting listeners excited about turning on the radio ... coming up with the next "it" factor while staying within the structure of the PPM system.
5. What has been the biggest change in the industry you've experienced over the last five years?
As a 2006 graduate of the National Association of Broadcasting Leadership Training Program (BLT) program (designed to support minority ownership), it's disheartening to see the erosion of minority and female ownership due to funding and lack of available competitive properties.
Currently, radio is a flat business ... not exciting and way too predictable. We've given the consumer no reason to spend his or her resources with us ... time or money that is so essential to growth.
6. Tell us about your company, Miles Ahead Broadcasting. How long has it been in business and what programs and services does it currently offer?
Miles Ahead Broadcasting LLC (MAB) was started in 2005 to create and provide innovative and niche programs for national syndication. MAB's first offering is the Café Mocha Radio Show, which speaks directly to African-American women, ages 25-54, who represent a combined buying power of more than $1.2 trillion.
Created for Women of Color and heard in over 20 markets and (Café Mocha Uncut) on Sirius/XM channel 141, Café Mocha is heard in major markets of New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The two-hour show airs weekends and is co-hosted by two-time Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist MC Lyte, actress/comedienne Loni Love (E! Entertainment's "Chelsea Lately") and broadcast veteran Angelique Perrin. Café Mocha features the latest in Urban music, conversation from an unabashedly female perspective, exclusive interviews with top performers, celebrities, politicians and civic leaders.
More specialized shows are being tested and developed to rollout in 2013.
7. How do you feel about syndication? Do you agree that good syndicated programs, such as "Café Mocha," offer a level of content that local stations simply can't provide for their audience?
We are committed to provide a service to our affiliates! We capture the pulse of today's African-American female with national talent and 'A' list guests to help our affiliates engage and maintain their female listenership.
I feel syndication will take on a much different look in the future. Our goal is to offer more services to the local station owner by opening up additional revenue-generating opportunities. This allows the owner to generate additional income.
8. How do you feel about the ability of minority-targeted companies such as Miles Ahead to develop despite the ever expanding universe of the multi-media landscape? Is it possible for them to not only survive but prosper?
We must expand with that universe if financially feasible. We have to stay in touch with our customer -- the consumer -- and meet her where she lives on whatever devise she is currently using. The level of engagement has to deepen. If you become a destination as a point for solid entertainment and an access to crucial information, I believe we will prosper. Staying focused on niche audiences that deliver for advertisers and creating properties that address that audience is our strategy for continuous growth.
9. What are your guidelines for staying focused while wearing all of the hats you currently wear?
Stay relevant! Surrounding myself with team of professionals who are "smarter" then me and friends I trust to keep me honest. Always being in a new school state of mind!
10. Of all the skills you have gained through the years, is there an area you'd like to improve?
Knowing a second language and being bilingual would have been a real advantage to my career and business development.
What would people who think they know Sheila Eldridge be surprised to know about you?
I love horses and really a cowgirl at heart! They are the most elegant animals on the planet and have brought me the most relaxing moments of my life.
How involved do you get in sales and programming strategies along with the overall assessments of your company's revenue position in the marketplace?
Having been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, it's a must you stay involved as the numbers tell a story but not the whole story.
What do you read? What's your favorite reading material?
The Bible, Black Enterprise, Fortune, Games Mother Never Taught You, Essence
Who do you consider to be your mentors?
Hal Jackson, Dorothy Brunson, Cathy Hughes, Vince Pepper
Do you feel that Urban stations should support new syndicated shows?
As a provider of syndicated programs, I feel there's a place for well produced and strategically placed shows that targets a specific audience. A good syndicated program can be worth its weight in gold if used properly.