The State of Radio

Five Independent Radio Broadcasters Discuss Their Strategies For Small-Market Success

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David Menconi is a music critic/arts reporter and writer. He is a 2019 Piedmont Laureate and the author of Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown.

Superserving local listeners and event marketing are among the tactics working for these owners and operators. "If you are willing to roll with technology and what the audience does, wants and needs, it’s exciting."

 

What is it like to run a small-market radio station or group during the heyday of Spotify, SiriusXM, YouTube and TikTok? According to Ed Levine, president/CEO of Galaxy Media Partners, which owns and operates 13 stations in central New York state, "It’s a much more complicated matrix than even five years ago and changing at an incredibly rapid pace -- things that were true even just three years ago are no longer relevant." And, by the way, he loves it. "It's tremendously invigorating," he adds. "There are more ways to touch the public and satisfy advertisers than ever before, and it has added years to my career."

Levine is one of five owner-operators who spoke to Billboard about the challenges and opportunities faced by small-market broadcasters that don't benefit from the economies of scale or the collective muscle that comes with having a giant like iHeartMedia, Entercom or Cumulus for a parent company. Also interviewed: Rick Heilmann, a single-station owner who operates WKJO (102.3 FM) Smithfield, N.C.; Bruce Goldsen, co-owner of the four-station Jackson Radio Works in South Central Michigan; Ben Downs, GM, Bryan Broadcasting in College Station, Texas; and Amador S. Bustos, whose 30-station Bustos Media Holdings serves mostly Spanish but also Russian-, Vietnamese- and Korean-language stations in a half-dozen states.

All five agree that the proliferation of media choices -- streaming audio and video, satellite radio, TV and video games -- has made the radio business more daunting, as has competition from the deep-pocketed major station groups and the uncertain future of traditional over-the-air broadcast advertising. But they say they are rising to these challenges by superserving their local audiences; investing in digital advertising, even if the returns are minimal; and, in the case of Levine's company, expanding into experiential and event marketing.

Keeping up with evolving digital technology, such as voice activation, is also a necessity. “Back in the day, we would turn on the radio and make sure there were songs coming out,” says Downs. “Today, we check the over-the-air signal, the streaming signal and any translators. And in the past two weeks, I’ve had the front desk run through the Alexa voice commands to make sure the right station comes up when we say [the local ID for KNDE-HD2], ‘Play Willy 97.’”

Above all, staying nimble is essential. "Anybody who says they know what’s next is not being truthful," says Levine. "Keep your head on a swivel and be ready to move fast in whatever direction is right."

What is the main competition in your market?
Bustos
We have our competitors in English as well as internet and satellite radio. But our main competition is other Spanish broadcasters, mostly.
Downs For dollars and cents, it’s still TV. There’s a station owned by Gray TV that’s very aggressive about trying new things. For listeners? Our top 40 station, KNDE [Candy 95], is really strong, but this is a college town, so we bump into Pandora and Spotify a lot.
Goldsen It used to be a handful of radio stations from adjacent markets, but now it’s a long list: video games, Pandora, Spotify, TV stations and whatever app somebody just downloaded. Name anything people do with their time, and it has become our competition, because everything is readily available.
Heilmann Our primary competition is two Raleigh country stations. Secondary would be all the available audio out there; online, on the air or on devices.
Levine We compete with two giant traditional radio companies, iHeartMedia and Cumulus, and also two giant TV companies, Nexstar and Sinclair. So, more and more, we are focusing our attention on digital. If you add all the radio money in the market, it’s about 7 cents on the dollar. We’re not worrying about what traditional media is doing. In five years, Facebook and Google have taken more money out of the marketplace than all the radio companies combined. There has been a pivot point on who the competition is. No longer is it the radio guy across the street.

How many people do you employ?

Bustos We have about 75 employees companywide. Because we run the radio networks out of Portland [Ore.], most of the Spanish stations are linked either via satellite or internet. Only our midday shows are live in each market. The morning and afternoon drive times are out of Portland. We are our own syndicator.

Downs Sixty people. That’s a lot, but you have to have a lot if you’re going to do news, live and local shows and get out into the community. With 60,000 college students here, you have to let them know about you as an entertainment option. One thing that’s really important is sports, especially football. With Texas A&M football, we have more sports people here than most small-market companies.

Goldsen We have about 20 employees.

Heilmann We have 10 employees, seven of them full-time.

Levine We have 70 to 90 part-time and full-time employees.

 

 

Describe your audience.
Bustos Our audience is primarily first-generation immigrants, mostly from Spanish-speaking countries but also Asian countries -- Vietnam, Korea, China, Russia. Latin music has taken off and shown growth similar to African American music in its various forms, and has shown significant growth beyond the Hispanic population and into the general market. It’s not solely because of the growth of the Hispanic population.
Downs With so many college students, it’s not monolithic. Some live and die by hip-hop. Others like Katy Perry, and our contemporary Christian station is very popular among the students. But there are a couple hundred thousand people in the county, so you can’t just target students. [For them], we have news/talk and sports talk. We’re fortunate to have enough stations to reach most demographics. We even have a Spanish-language station and use subchannels on FM to reach diverse groups.
Goldsen We have four different stations and audiences: country, news/talk, sports and top 40. We also get the audience that wants to know what’s going on in the area, because nobody serves Jackson County, Mich., exclusively but us.
Heilmann Geographically, it would be the southeastern portion of the Raleigh-Durham metro area. And obviously, it’s people who like country music. Agewise, we’re a 25-plus format. We’re too small to subscribe to Nielsen Audio. But from feedback with events and contests, that’s who our audience is. We ask the winners how old they are and it’s usually 30s and 40s, pretty balanced between male and female.
Levine Our audience is getting more and more nontraditional. We were among the first to really commit to experiential and event marketing, and more than 50% of our profits are derived from the events division. We got into the event business about 18 years ago, starting with local concerts. We did a huge number of rock shows for several years, then pivoted three or four years ago. Now we do Taste of Syracuse, a food and music festival that draws 200,000 people every year. We also work with the county to produce Lights on the Lake, a six-week holiday display that gets upwards of 40,000 vehicles every year. It’s not just Central New York either -- we do events all over the state. We’re also opening up the Carolinas, with successful events in Greensboro, Fayetteville, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham coming up.

What is your highest-rated radio show, or who is your highest-rated DJ? What’s the reason for their popularity?

Bustos We have two main networks, La GranD and La Zeta, playing primarily regional Mexican music. Our morning personality on La GranD’s Bronco Show, Josue del Castillo, is the most popular. He is very dynamic and personal, and comes from the border region of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, across from McAllen, Texas. He has a good sense of the pulse of the community, how people miss their homeland and cultural habits. He plays on that very well in terms of becoming a friend for this audience.

Downs Morning Candy With Frito & Katy on our pop station, Candy 95. It’s live and local, them sitting in chairs looking out the window, and they’re far and away the most popular in the market. They’ve been here a while, and people know them. There’s magic to a personal connection with people on the radio. It’s not just talking about the most recent song, but the community and its issues. It makes a difference.

Goldsen Because of its signal size, our top 40 station, [WKHM] K-105.3, is our most listened to, especially the morning show with Scott Clow and Jenny Lewis. They’re a very funny, good-natured combination. They can laugh at each other, and they’re very at home with each other and the audience, either on the phone or during on-location broadcasts. Like all of us, they go everywhere. That’s a thing all our stations do, especially that show. Whatever is happening in Jackson County, our stations go to it.

Heilmann We try to superserve the smaller communities outside of Raleigh and provide an advertising vehicle for smaller businesses that couldn’t afford radio otherwise. Our most active daypart is The JoCo Morning Show, branded to the Johnston County community. That’s when we put the most effort into involving listeners and interacting with them, and it’s the most active period with listener engagement.

Levine We’ve got Gomez Adams, who co-hosts Gomez & Lisa in the Morning, on WTKW. He just celebrated 25 years on the station -- he’s a legacy figure in the market. Rick Gary has been in the market for nearly 50 years and is in the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame. We have the compelling heritage figures. Success for a radio personality used to be doing a two- to four-hour show, and that was the end of the day. Now, the smart on-air person realizes that the show is just the focal touchpoint, and there are other things to do before, after and even during it, too -- live polling and discussing the results on-air, making appearances and tweeting about it, Facebook Live. Our classic rock DJ, Rick Deyulio, does a specialty show on Facebook about rock trivia. And Josh from the K-Rock morning show has “Whiskey Wednesday” every Wednesday night, drinking whiskey on the air. Everyone’s active all through the day with all the various touchpoints. Wherever listeners are, that’s where we try to be.

 

 

 

Are your ad revenues up, flat or down?

Bustos Revenues are up organically, in the range of 7 to 9 percent year to year, which is not bad growth as radio companies go. We have very distinct niche markets with ethnic languages, and the AM stations we’ve acquired are not as expensive to buy. So revenue and profits are easier to attain. Also, the population is growing, which is another important factor -- maybe the most, when it comes to establishing attachment and loyalty to the format. For us, the time spent listening is longer than average in our markets. It’s a population accustomed to free over-the-air radio as opposed to a subscription for satellite. That’s more the younger generation’s thing, which we have to look at for the future. But for now, the main core of our audience is still in a safe place.

Downs They’re flat. I hate to use the cliché, but flat is the new up. I don’t think you can suddenly add competition the size of Google, Amazon and Spotify and not have an impact. I wish all that revenue didn’t go in just one direction. We’re lucky to have a staff that loves to do community service. Every Christmas, we raise a couple hundred thousand dollars for the Salvation Army to buy toys and relief supplies, and let’s just say we don’t have to push anybody from Google out of the way when we present our check. If a Little League team is looking for a sponsor, they’re calling me, not Spotify. I would guess there are very few Little League jerseys with “Spotify” on the back.

Goldsen I would say flat to slightly up. During the big recession, they took a slight dip and came back. One thing that works in our favor with advertisers is the number of different competitors out there. There are so many it can be hard to wrap your head around all of the options. Local radio, and TV to some degree, gives those advertisers the best way to monitor and measure the audience they’re reaching. Everybody has tried click-through and all that. They still know that traditional avenues with announcers talking up [a product or service] give the best impact for advertising dollars. We have a vested interest in our local advertisers doing well. Without them, we don’t exist.

Heilmann Being an immature operation -- we’re coming up on five years -- our ad revenues have grown substantially year to year to year. We’re right on target with the initial business-plan growth. We’ve been able to upgrade things each year and provide more jobs. The day we went on the air, we had three employees.

Levine The Syracuse market is having a tough year -- it’s down double digits. But we’ve more than made up for that from the [explosive growth] of the digital and events divisions. We’re kind of an outlier in the market. Through the halfway point of the year, the market is down 6.1% but our group is up 3.7%, largely due to digital and events success.

 

What will be the impact of the upcoming political cycle in your market, and how are you planning to capitalize on it?
Bustos In 2018, for the first time we got some substantial political money. We expect it to be even more substantial in 2020 because of the recognition of the growth of our audience’s citizenship and voting activities. Before, that money went mainly to television. We try to make ourselves visible and available, and we run public-affairs programs and news coverage in our morning sections. We try to participate in political forums at the local level. We have also initiated Unidos Contamos Mas [United We Count More], a U.S. Census, voter-registration and information drive. Some of the political rhetoric about immigrants and immigration is distressing. But the facts are undeniable: If you look at the demographics of California and the kindergarten through sixth grade student population statewide, in the next generation or two California could become a Hispanic-majority state. That’s what people are reacting to -- our growing strength.
Downs Political ads are always good for us monetarily, but the rules for them are kind of weird. We are required by law to charge our lowest rate for them. And we are not allowed to change or censor anything a candidate says in a commercial as long as it’s not obscene. If a candidate wants to say the ugly, nasty things you hear in political discourse today, I’d like to be able to say no, but my license is at stake.
Goldsen There is always impact, but it tends to be local and regional state races. Because we’re a smaller market and not rated, we don’t get much for the presidential or big Senate races. Issues, sometimes, but it tends to be local -- everything about us is local. My wife handles political advertising, and she’s very proactive about contacting local candidates’ campaigns to remind them we’re here.
Heilmann We tend to be more involved with politics at the local level. We’re not normally on the radar for the national races. We’re available to them if they’re looking for it, certainly. But those are agencies looking at the top stations in the metro area, and we don’t cover the whole metro area. It would be hard for us to make a case for it.
Levine We probably won’t get anything from the presidential race because New York is obviously blue. Locally, tremendous dollars are already coming in for races like sheriff. There will be a competitive congressional race in 2020, the 24th District with Republican John Katko, a seat that has swung back and forth. Nationally, I wish we were in Florida or Michigan or Pennsylvania, but we’re not. There might be some Democratic primary dollars, although by the time of the New York primary it might be a one- or two-horse race.

 

 

Is it harder to be in the radio business today than it was 10 years ago?

Bustos In some ways, it is harder, but 10 or 15 years ago, major retailers wanted nothing to do with Spanish radio. They have since become an integral part of our marketing. So as the purchasing power of the Hispanic community has become stronger, in some ways it has become easier for us. Unfortunately, there is a lot of emotional and political rhetoric affecting perceptions of Hispanics, which can make things a little more difficult. But the economy is so strong that when marketers look at the bottom-line revenue potential of this market, they put aside bias and prejudice.

Downs Instead of "harder," I’d say "different." Radio people have always thought it’s harder than it used to be, going back to the ’70s. If you embrace change, it’s a fine business to be in. But if you’re trying to do things the same way you were 20 years ago, it just does not work that way. Imagine running a [top 40] station without being on Facebook or having an Instagram account -- no way. If it’s harder now, it’s your own fault.

Goldsen I don’t believe it’s harder unless you’re somebody who longs for the good old days. The music business went through the same thing, and look at it now. It was decimated from not grappling with how the industry had changed, and it figured out how to make pretty good money from streaming. If you're willing to roll with technology and what the audience does, wants and needs, it’s exciting. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity. The problem is the model now does not work for radio on the streaming side. It’s not cost-effective for me, but I do it because that’s where part of the audience is listening. The per-song, per-listener royalty paid to SoundExchange costs us much more than we are able to recover through incremental digital advertising revenue. Pure-play streaming companies and SiriusXM are able to pass along these costs to subscribers, but as a free, advertising-supported medium, we cannot do that.

Heilmann We are in a challenging environment, but we’ve been able to make it work so far. We have more satisfied advertisers, percentagewise, than the average station. It helps with repeat business, certainly. We structure our ad campaigns around frequency, because you’re only reaching a small percentage of the overall audience with each spot, so you’d better run it a lot if you want a representative take on what it can do for you. We’ll turn down advertisers who want to just do it piecemeal and then tell people it didn’t work. We do have price points that make it affordable for small businesses, and we get great feedback from clients. Not 100%, but the best feedback is when they continue to renew. We have a few dozen advertisers that came on during our first year, and five years later they’re still here. You don’t keep writing checks unless you perceive that you’re getting your money’s worth.

 

What are the most challenging aspects of being a small-market station operator right now?

Bustos The perception that radio is an old and dying medium, which is really not the case. We need to counteract that. It continues to be a very vibrant medium in terms of music discovery and emergency broadcasting on local community disasters.

Downs Things like rent and health insurance have skyrocketed. So you've got flat income [because of flat advertising] and rising expenses. People have got to have raises. People need more money to make it through the day. Then the [Federal Communications Commission] comes up with these very large regulatory fees. When [Irving Azoff’s] Global Music Rights came up suddenly out of nowhere as a performance rights organization, it represented a brand-new expense. The GMR agreements ask that we not disclose our rates. It’s less than some but more than other PROs charge. For decades there were the big three PROs, and then one day we get an email and a letter requiring us to pay a licensing fee to GMR. When we received a list of their represented repertoire, there were a lot of core artists that were represented by them. And today, a PRO can represent just a small percentage of a song, but unless you license 100%, you don’t have the right to play that song. That creates a potential situation where you have to have a license with all four PROs in order to play one song.

Goldsen Some of our biggest challenges are increasing costs that we cannot control and how to evolve our traditional advertising-driven, analog, transmitter-fed signals into the digital era of streaming and interactivity. Large groups can spread these costs across hundreds of stations; small-station operators do not have this luxury of scale. It can also be difficult to attract quality talent -- sales, on-air, technical -- to a small market.

Heilmann The biggest thing for me is the small size of the staff. We have about 10 employees, seven of them full-time, and they have a lot of things to do with events throughout the market. Sometimes we have to turn down events because the staff runs thin and can only do so much. Everybody seems overworked, but it’s a good staff that thrives on getting it done. We have people working 10 to 12 hours a day on a regular basis.

Levine The macro headwinds facing the industry in general are a concern. We’ve gone through a period of unprecedented health of the economy, but everybody I listen to says that’s going to end in the next 12 to 18 months. I worry about that.

 

 

What is your digital presence? How much has it added to your revenue?

Bustos Our digital presence is on an app where people listen to stations, similar to iHeart’s app, though obviously on a much smaller scale. We just launched that, and we make sure all our stations are online with websites. We have not been able to capitalize on digital revenue; we just use it as support for terrestrial radio. Other companies have invested heavily in digital with significant revenue and growth, but we have not because it’s a double-edged sword. Investing in and promoting our digital footprint is counterproductive to the success of our main terrestrial signals, which is different from the trend bigger companies have had.

Downs It’s broadcast dollars and digital dimes. For reasons I don’t fully understand, advertisers and agencies place a lower value on online than over-the-air listeners. So we have our digital presence to make sure we’re not caught unawares. If 10% want to listen online, we’re there. Ten percent on podcast? You got it. Ten percent on Alexa? Sure. You ignore delivery platforms at your peril. You’ve got to be everywhere your listeners expect you to be.

Goldsen It was very slow at first. We stream our country and top 40 stations. It’s trickier with spoken-word and sports; there are rights issues, and we don’t stream as much of that. We do sell stream-only ads on the top 40 station as a kind of add-on for some advertisers, and we do a lot of website promos. There’s a whole hodgepodge of different things -- selling text blasts or promoting stuff on our Facebook page. All together, digital probably makes up 8 to 10% of our revenue. One problem for a small-market outfit as opposed to iHeartMedia, they’re able to aggregate across thousands of stations and streams. For small stations like mine, how many digital specialists can you hire to be on the cutting edge?

Heilmann We do stream 24-7, and we have our website, but it’s not a platform we focus on, because it reaches a small, small percentage of what we reach on the radio. We tend to focus on where we get the best results for clients, so we have not monetized digital platforms well. As a matter of fact, it’s an expense for us, and making more efforts there takes us away from where we get better results.

Levine We’ve been doing things organically for a couple of years -- some specialty shows on music and sports that are digital-only. We got really serious about it 18 months ago, and our first full year of digital revenues were 20% of our total revenues. The good news is, digital revenues are growing exponentially, [but] it’s hard to predict two or three years down the line. The challenge is to make sure you’re properly serving clients and keeping them happy. Over the air has been a real challenge for the last five years. [We keep] having to reforecast quarter by quarter because the market’s softer. The digital side more than makes up for it, but the profit margin of digital vs. radio is not as great. Most of that income is derived from serving as middleman for businesses buying ads for specific times on Facebook, Google or Yahoo, so we don’t make the margins we do with our own content. We’re trying to create enough of our own inventory to capture 100% of that money. But the strategic decision has been to capture the revenue and worry about margins down the road.

 

Broadcasters' position on performance royalty rates might be evolving -- from "never” to "maybe, if the right deal involving lower digital rates comes along." Where do you stand?

Bustos Historically, radio has been so beneficial to both artists and record companies. It’s unfair for them to want radio to pay them. There’s reciprocal value, and record companies and artists make significant money from recordings and touring supported by radio play.

Downs Everybody would like to make more money. I just don't think this is a way to do it. Nobody knows what form a Performance Rights Act would take. But if it were the same as the one that SoundExchange uses, my Candy 95 FM station would end up paying something like $120,000 a year. When I add the other four or five other [Bryan] stations that play music, it would be less than that [per station], but it still would be a really big number. We're not making a lot of money these days. I’m a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy, but I also believe that whatever “maybe” is today may not be what tomorrow’s “maybe” is. For small-market people, the talk is that the fee might be nominal and affordable. But there’s no guarantee, and the potential of performance rights fees to put me out of business is very real. Nobody has said the over-the-air performance fees would be the same as online streaming rates, but that’s as good a guess as any. If the rates are that high, I could lay off a couple of employees to offset the fee on each station. Or I could choose to play very little music. Our morning shows are popular, and we’ve seen great acceptance on our news/talk morning shows, so I know a music-free option does work.

Goldsen The system is broken. As of now, artists do not get what they deserve. But at the same time, the model for us is not sustainable, because what I have to pay to stream doesn’t make it cost-effective. It’s prohibitive, actually. I pay $400 a month on average to SoundExchange, for maybe 100 listeners at any given time. That’s a lot of money to pay for 100 listeners in Jackson, Mich. It’s interesting that record companies have huge promotion departments that spend millions to get music on the radio, and lawyers and CEOs are going after stations to pay rights for the artists. But it’s not surprising. Record companies have always taken advantage of artists. I have always believed in the model where we play the music they encourage us to play, and they make money off the promotion they get. It’s a double-edged sword. Should they pay us, like advertisers? Use that argument and they scoff, but it is in fact promotion, and they’ve always treated it as such. The system in general needs to be revamped, because digital performing rights are too expensive for stations.

Heilmann My position is that we already contribute significantly to the success of artists, and it’s a fair deal the way it has been.

Levine I’d like to see some certainty baked into the future. At some point, we have to have that worked out so we can project our expenses going forward, so let’s have a conversation. The challenge is that the music industry’s traditional model has collapsed. So they’re looking around at likely suspects, and free over-the-air radio is on top. SiriusXM is paying, but they’re also charging listeners. I hope there’s resolution that works for everyone. I’m not smart enough to know what a potential compromise might look like, but we have to get there, and neither side wants a government-mandated resolution.

 

 

Have you calculated what the extra cost to you might be if a performance royalty rate is instituted? What would be your programming options if the costs were prohibitive? 

Bustos If you combine what we pay ASCAP and BMI and SESAC, it’s 8 to 10% of revenue now. Add another 3%, and that would be significant. Where does it stop? Playlists have shrunk due to specialization and automation. If another royalty is implemented, that will only further narrow the pipeline so that only the top-producing songs would get airplay. It would be detrimental to the general artist population.

Downs I have to think that eventually there would be a level of independent artists who would say OK to [radio] playing their music royalty-free. There’s probably a world of difference and motivation to what Madonna thinks about radio airplay now versus what she thought 30 years ago. If I suddenly found myself in the position of having to pay, I’d never take a chance on something that might not be a big hit. Some formats would never be able to cover the expenses associated with it. Us small-market guys recognize where we are in the food chain. I see music on a radio station as a Christmas tree, where you also hang community service, personal connections, contests and [other] things to make it live and local. If that Christmas tree is priced out of the market...

Goldsen I’ve never heard a figure, so no. We’ve been paying songwriter royalties forever, and that has increased. It used to be 3% of our bottom line, now it’s closer to 5%. It’s messed up, too, with the advent of Global Music Rights and other PROs. I program music 24 hours a day, and my costs go up every time a new PRO comes along. For what we do pay now, there’s no room in our market to pay much additional cost in royalties. Subscription models pass those royalties along to the end user. You see it on your bill. We can’t do that because we’re advertiser-based. We serve our local community, so we’ve always been treated differently, and we’ve had this exemption for more than 70 years. Different expectations come from serving a community, rather than SiriusXM or streaming.

Twenty-four hours of music should cost a fixed amount of dollars. Yet we pay a percentage of gross revenue to ASCAP, another percentage of revenue to BMI and a percentage of revenue to SESAC. GMR came along, took songwriters from those other PROs and charged an additional, arbitrary royalty. If a fifth, sixth or seventh PRO popped up, we would be forced to continue to pay additional royalties if we want to play their songs, even though we're playing the same number of songs we were before. It would make more sense to assess songwriting royalties as a fixed percentage of revenue, and let the PROs figure out, by market share, how to divvy up that pot.

Heilmann I don’t know what that might be, but I’m in too small a situation to impact the final outcome on that.

Levine Any additional expense is not welcome, but both sides have to get together and find something that works for everybody. Operating without certainty over my expense line is a fear. If there’s certainty, that gives me a runway. What the music industry needs to understand is that the national market is down and it’s a shrinking pie. Piling on other expenses, you run the risk of drowning the child. There’s some denial about the challenges. They look at iHeartRadio making all that money, but every iHeart they aim at hurts a Galaxy. We’re trying our best to serve our local community, and dealing with a lot of wind in the face.

 

Given that it's tougher to dole out raises in the current radio economy, are you concerned about programmers at your stations accepting pay-for-play on the side?

Bustos I don’t think so. That was more of a concern when the pipeline to terrestrial radio was so important. Nowadays it’s so much more diversified, so many different outlets, and radio has lost a significant amount of its primacy. Diversified outlets have made things like payola rules outdated. Now artists mostly start on the internet via YouTube views and promoting through Facebook.

Downs I don’t think it’s a problem. Our guys know they’ll get fired if they do it, and I don't think record companies are going to pay somebody in market No. 186 to play a record.

Goldsen Nobody wants to do pay-to-play here. We’re not big enough.

Heilmann It has not been an issue for us.

Levine We’re fortunate enough to have never had to cut back on staff. People come and go based on performance. They’re all paid at or above market levels, and we’ve been blessed with little turnover. Last year, we had three folks who had worked for us up to 25 years legitimately retire. We have ethical people working here, and that’s not even a minor concern of mine.

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