Thoughts From CMW 2011

Chris Byrnes – ByrnesMedia

The mood was mostly upbeat at CMW and attendance was up by 12 percent from last year. Conference organiser Neil Dixon said “We were impressed with how many people were attending CMW for the first time. There is a whole new generation of young people getting into the business which is encouraging.” Dixon confirmed “The overall mood was optimistic, in part because a number of these young companies have grown up in this new environment and they have adapted to this new environment and they are succeeding.” Radio conventions are a great opportunity to learn and also network with other radio professionals. Oftentimes there is as much learning in the bar after the sessions. I attended as many of the sessions and wanted to pass along some of the things I saw and heard at CMW 2011.

The radio portion of the conference kicked off with Radio Stimulus, a panel discussion moderated by Erica Farber who ran Radio & Records for a number of years. During her opening remarks she complimented Canadian radio as being a lot more entertaining than American radio. I have heard other Americans say this in the past and I wonder if they come here expecting radio to be somehow behind what they hear south of the 49th parallel. Perhaps they are surprised by the original content, the different music (Cancon) and the more local flavour of most Canadian stations. You could also argue that our CRTC regulations have benefited Canadian radio listeners because they ensure diversity of voices and limit multiple station ownership in a market. American radio for the most part has a “sameness” to it, perhaps because of consolidation and reduced staff numbers. The end result is generic sounding radio. I recently drove to Florida along the I-75 for March Break and did my usual “seek and scan” thing that most passionate radio people are guilty of, and the radio stations I heard did not impress me. On the way down, it was a weekend so I expected to hear lots of voice tracking, but I took a weekday on the way back so I got to hear a lot of stations in Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan.  I listened to a morning show in Lexington, Kentucky that spent too much time delivering generic Hollywood gossip, or in-talk about what one of the hosts was wearing and another break focused on equipment issues in the control room. There was no local content and they failed to make a connection with their audience in any of the breaks I heard. Across the street, a syndicated morning show (Bob & Tom) had better content, but not at all local. I was pleased to get back to Canada and hear some local radio that truly was local.

Erica is clearly very positive about the radio industry and reminded us that radio still reaches 92% of Americans in an average week. “Be proud you work in radio, and don’t apologize.” She encouraged announcers to deliver content in such a way as to make the listener feel like the guest of honour, not like they are in the back of the room. (meaning don’t talk about stuff that listeners don’t care about, such as what you are wearing or if the headphones are broken).  Erica feels websites should be a destination and radio stations need to embrace new media opportunities. Howard Kroeger from suggested that radio’s challenge is that we can only run so many commercials before the listener tunes out. His recommendation is that radio look for creative partnership with businesses, such as revenue sharing with local advertisers. He said, “Think of ways to partner with them so that when they get business from their advertising, you profit too.” Kroeger suggested that radio should have thought of the Groupon model and we should be looking at doing this on radio. Lots of radio stations run a half price club, or a 50% off club system on their websites and you can see an example at Daniel Anstandig from was also very upbeat about radio and suggested “We are all lucky to work in industry that doesn’t feel like a job.” But he also feels it is time for creative people to re-invent the industry. “We are competing for listeners’ time and the advertisers’ dollars and we need to be prospecting for revenue by using some of the new online tools. He also feels we should be recruiting talent differently and using tools such as YouTube to find the next local stars. JJ Johnson from Corus says today’s on-air performer needs to be visible in his community, know everyone and understand that being local is the best approach. “Announcers must have a great work ethic, they must blog, tweet, write, produce, make content available on-demand.” Talent coach Valerie Geller,, who has a new book out this month, says announcers must understand they are in the content business and when we open the microphone, the content has to be compelling and interesting. She encourages announcers to tell interesting and entertaining stories that will make a connection with their listeners. Jeff Vidler says that radio needs to approach research differently today and ask different questions than it did in the past. He feels public radio is growing audience in Canada at the expense of commercial radio. Dean Blundell was very entertaining and his message to on air performers was “Be real, be yourself and if you cannot then do something else.” He also feels “announcers need to be a partner with the Program Director and vice versa.”

Fred Jacobs presented an interesting session on Going Mobile. He says “2009 was the year of the smart phone and these (devices) are the way forward for radio.” He feels it is hard to imagine a successful radio station today that does not offer listeners a way to consume radio via a mobile device. He also feels that radio has a real opportunity to use social media to increase cume. Fred then presented a study that followed 18 Americans using their smart phones. Frankly, this had little to do with radio but it did touch on the impact that Pandora is having on radio listening in the states, and how some of these 18 people used Pandora as their radio station on their mobile device.  He concluded by saying, “Mobile is prime real estate, but radio apps must be developed with creativity to be successful.”

Another popular session was The Crowdsourcerer’s Apprentice. Crowdsourcing is defined as “giving power to your audience to call some of the shots when it comes to programming, content, and contests.” Christian Hall, OM/PD, X92.9 FM, Calgary is using Listener Driven Radio, branded as X on Demand, to create a point of difference between his station and others in the market by allowing listeners to pick the next song to play on the station several times a day. Listeners can request songs, vote to hear songs they want to hear more or less, and the results display in real time. Listeners can also elect to be notified when the song they requested will play. Philippe Patrice, Chief Digital Platforms Officer, Astral Radio, Montreal mentioned a radio station in Quebec puts a list of songs on their website that listeners can vote on. At the

end of the day the most voted songs get played. A radio station in Cleveland Ohio is using LDR Takeover and allows listeners to choose the music that is played between 3 & 7pm each day. Virgin 95.3FM, Vancouver ran a Fake Film Festival on their website where listeners were asked to recreate their favourite movie in 60 seconds and upload it to the station website. They received 187 submissions, and the promotion created a lot of buzz in Vancouver, the station got a nice PPM spike and traffic doubled to their website.

Social reprogramming was a session moderated by Steve Jones from Newcap. The key theme coming out of this session was that new technology helps showcase great content, but radio needs this content on multiple platforms to be relevant. We also need to be mindful that a radio station’s cume will be much larger than the number of fans it has on Facebook, so always be mindful of the on-air product. We need to keep the on-air brand strong at all times.  If you do not have a digital strategy, then pick one social media and focus on that. Don’t try to do all of them. By the way Edison Research will release their Infinite Dial 2011 study on April 5th and one of the findings of this research is that 51% of all Americans now have a Facebook profile, so if you pick one perhaps it should be Facebook. Mike McVay of McVay Media says, “Compelling content is the key to drive a blog or website.” David  Huszar, the Senior VP of Digital for Corus Toronto cautioned, “We don’t make all our jocks blog because they’re not all great writers.” Listener Clubs were regarded as having value by most of the panellists, provided they deliver on expectations and offer some value to the end user. Weekly e-mail blast can still be good, provided they offer relevant content and are not seen as spam. The key is to deliver content that listeners are interested in. Radio station websites must be dynamic if you hope to generate any revenue from them. Most are glorified brochures that don’t change and therefore don’t encourage frequent visits. When asked about Groupon, Jay Kruz, PD, Rewind 94.9 Cincinnati said his station “launched a similar program two years ago which is hyper local focused and listeners have really embraced it.” Check it out at When asked how a radio station measures success in Social Media Paul Kaye, PD, BRMB, Birmingham, UK said, “The real power isn’t the amount of friends but the level of engagement.”

Conclusion: I have only touched on a few of the many panels delivered at Canada Music Week this year, so this is not meant to be a comprehensive summary. But I do hope that there will be at least one idea you can implement or improve upon at your station. We all need to look for ways to make each show and each radio station more relevant to both listeners and advertisers. We also need to stop listening to bad American radio as that is no longer inspiring. If you would like a list of interesting radio stations to listen to drop me a line and I’ll be happy to share some links.