Newhouse Radio and Audio Summit Lauds Creativity

Syracuse University Audio Summit
Mike Grannis

Sean Ross, Genevieve Sponsler, Thea Mitchem, Andrew Moss, Seth Farbman and Adam Curry during the 2016 Radio and Audio Summit at Syracuse University.

A panel of professionals from radio to podcasting, moderated by Edison Research's Sean Ross, offered their insights on Oct. 7.

By 2016, the definition of radio as we know it has changed considerably. Once the largely unchallenged premier source for music and talk programming in the U.S., these days it shares the spotlight with such newer platforms as on-demand streaming services and podcasting.

Much has already been said about the paradigm shift of audio consumption in the digital age, so instead the 2016 Radio and Audio Summit, held by Syracuse University's Newhouse School in New York City on Oct. 7 (with Billboard serving as a media partner), focused less on the emergence of these new avenues and instead on a term beneficial to all content providers: creativity.

Beginning with a five-person industry panel and followed by a keynote address from NPR president/CEO Jarl Mohn, the three-and-a-half-hour event examined the values of being creative in the audio industry – radio (terrestrial and satellite), streaming and podcasting – in a time when consumers face countless entertainment options.

The panel, moderated by Edison Research VP of music and programming (and Billboard contributor) Sean Ross and featuring Seth Farbman (CMO, Spotify), Thea Mitchem (executive VP of programming, iHeartMedia Northeast), Andrew Moss (senior VP, business affairs and programming operations, SiriusXM), Genevieve Sponsler (content coordinator, PRX) and Adam Curry (podcasting pioneer, host of No Agenda Show), discussed the growing importance of podcasting and other slightly newer audio platforms (compared to radio, at least), tied together with general bits of professional wisdom.

A key point cited: the value of learning from others, even one's direct competition. Farbman detailed how, with each streaming service that has popped up in the past few years (Apple Music, TIDAL, etc.), some headlines surrounding their debuts have dubbed them the "Spotify killer" – when, in fact, he said, Spotify has seen quite the opposite occur. "More competition has meant all of us rise. We've grown faster and faster since their launches."

Added Sponsler, "If competition helps us notice what's missing, that's good." Meanwhile, Curry questioned whether competition even exists in his arena, citing how, rather than having to choose between a live morning radio show and his podcast, one can listen to multiple shows whenever they like, live or otherwise.

The panel also mulled the perception of radio then vs. now, with Mitchem relaying a story of how she once attended a forum where mostly millennials were asked if they listened to radio at all anymore, and most did not. However, the same subjects indicated that they did indeed listen to certain morning shows broadcast over the radio airwaves – but on their phones or online, which was, as they perceived, not "radio."

Afterward, Mohn took the podium to discuss his time in radio at WLRS Louisville, Kentucky, along with his current role at NPR, former posts in media as the creator of E! Entertainment Television, and as executive VP/GM of MTV and VH1 and more.

Mike Grannis
Jarl Mohn, president/CEO of NPR during the 2016 Radio and Audio Summit at Syracuse University.

Starting off lighthearted ("What is creativity? Much like comedy and porn, I know it when I see it"), Mohn detailed moments from his career during which he observed creativity play a chief role, from the creation of Yo! MTV Raps by Ted Demme and Peter Dougherty in 1988 – "Don't underestimate the power of experimentation," he said, after explaining that MTV had not presented such a hip-hop-oriented show before and that it was not initially greenlit for much more than a single half-hour – to Talk Soup (later The Soup) on E!. Mohn noted that Talk Soup stemmed from necessity (often a key ingredient to creativity) for a sixth show in a proposed three-hour block of programming, and one that was, above all, very cheap to produce. "We didn't have to pay for the clips" of daily talk shows that the show ran, he explained, because it promoted said shows' upcoming episodes. "It was promotional. Therefore it was free."

After a brief discussion from the panel that touched on the future possibility of self-driving cars and the role audio could play, Mohn mused that, even if and when such robotics become increasingly integrated into everyday life, their roles will still not be all-encompassing.

"Creativity, that's our secret sauce as humans," he concluded. "It's going to be a long, long time before technology can tell us a good joke. We have a long way to go before the robots are doing that for us."