Backbeat: Radio's Best Discuss The Medium's Present And Future State At Audio Industry Summit

Emmis COO/CEO Patrick Walsh, left, and CBS Radio president/CEO Dan Mason.

Radio experts called for a greater connection with listeners, content that tells a story, and making radio hip again for youth at the Audio Industry Summit held in New York Sept. 27.

The conference, presented by Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, focused on both the current and future state of audio-based media. 11 panelists representing radio stations and networks, mobile phone apps and consumer-controlled music websites, fielded questions from session moderators Sean Ross, VP of music and programming at Edison Research (and writer of "Ross On Radio" for Billboard.biz) and Doug Quin, professor and audio arts co-director at Newhouse, along with 100 attendees from the radio business.

In a lively discussion about how more live and local radio can happen, CBS Radio president and CEO Dan Mason stressed that "Being a radio station is using the power of the microphone and communicating to the community."

Panelists such as WBLS New York vice president and general manager Deon Levingston felt radio had taken its eye off the ball. "When early information from personal people meters [suggested] anytime there's an interruption, people leave, we told our air personalities, 'Don't talk.' Later we realized people don't mind interruptions if it's good content, meaningful and effective in our community."

Another topic sparking spirited conversation was terrestrial radio's long advertising breaks compared to the low spot loads of online services such as iTunes Radio or Pandora, whose vice president of artist and brand partnerships Tommy Page was a panelist. Emmis Communications COO, CEO and director Patrick Walsh noted the "sameness" of Pandora as opposed to "the connection we have emotionally with listeners [which] makes us special. It's an area that will drive growth."

Page countered, "I see competition as a good thing. Innovation grows our business. I think we'll all specialize in what we do best."

Deon Levingston, vice president and general manager of WBLS, left, and vice president of program development at Greater Media Buzz Knight.

Echoing the idea that any interruption, commercial or not, should be compelling, Greater Media vice president of program development Buzz Knight asked, "Wouldn't it be a perfect world if every radio commercial was creative?"

On the value of social media to the audio industry's future, CBS Radio executive VP of programming Chris Oliveiro said, "It can be an incubator of talent, something we didn't have access to 10 or 20 years ago," while Clear Channel Entertainment Enterprises senior vice president of content partnerships Owen Grover reminded the room that "Radio is the original social media."

WRVO Public Media reporter Ryan Delaney stated a feeling held by most of the panel, on the challenge of providing audio content and talent going forward. "Automation pisses the hell out of me."

Bob Bollen, host of NPR's "All Songs Considered," spoke from the listener point of view. "What I want out of my audio experience [is] a storyteller. That's where radio wins." TuneIn vice president of programming Kevin Straley agreed, "At the end of the day, it's iconic talent that will define platforms."

But that talent -- and the medium -- needs to attract a younger audience, claimed Galaxy Communications president and CEO Ed Levine. "We have to make radio hip to 16-, 17-year-olds. Young people have to want to be in this business."