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Scott Shannon, Label Relationships & AI: Insights From the Second Day of the All Access Audio Summit 2023

A recap of the second of three days of the gathering of industry leaders.

The All Access Audio Summit 2023 began Wednesday, April 26, and is set to run through today, April 28. Bringing together leaders in radio, podcasting and more, the virtual convention is sparking conversation aimed at optimizing the impact of audio in multiple commercial forms.

Here’s a rundown of highlights from the gathering’s second day, when panels were introduced by Fitz, host of Skyview Networks’ Country Top 40 countdown. “I love radio because I love performing,” he said, amid a daylong theme of personality remaining key to radio’s success as it competes with other audio options.

‘People Love Authentic’

In the day’s first session, All Access president and publisher Joel Denver chatted with Radio Hall of Famer Scott Shannon, who retired from WCBS-FM New York in December, with his legendary career having also included mornings on late adult top 40 station WPLJ New York and famously lifting WHTZ (Z100) New York from worst to first in ratings in a span of just 74 days in 1983.

Speaking from North Palm Beach, Fla., Shannon recalled an early radio that drew him in: “I went to sleep with it under my pillow.” What came out of the speaker, “I soaked up like a sponge.”


He took an early job on WABB 1480 Mobile, Ala. When his new boss asked him if he wanted to know what would his salary be, an excited Shannon replied, “You can tell me when I get there!”

Similarly, when Shannon accepted a job during an interview in Tampa, Fla., while working in Washington D.C., he remained in his new market, leaving his car in a D.C. airport parking lot. (From Florida, he asked a friend — fellow longtime New York programmer Steve Kingston — to retrieve his car, remembering that he’d left the keys under a mat inside.)

In New York, Shannon’s morning shows hit No. 1 at Z100, WPLJ and CBS-FM. “I worked hard and loved the music and loved the business,” he said. Also key to his success? “I had great teams at all three stations. Hire good people and let them do what they do.”

Shannon recalled telling Denver that when Z100 triumphed in New York ratings, “I was happy … but there were people crying in the station. I took that for granted — wherever I had worked, that’s what you’re supposed to do. The emotion that they knew they had it in them, but hadn’t had the leadership to let them do what they do, it really touched me. You need one person to believe in you — you’ve got to find your rabbi, so to speak.”

“I take a lot of pride in helping people along the way,” concurred Denver (whom, in a later session, longtime syndicated host John Garabedian called “the guy who holds the industry together”).

“Nobody’s that busy that they can’t call people back. Or return an email these days,” Shannon said.


Shannon also emphasized the power of air talent as essential to radio’s future. “You look through the history of radio — people love authentic,” he said. “[Listeners] felt like they were your friend. All great stations are based on great personalities.”

Shannon cited examples of stations that faltered when beloved personalities departed, while praising the likes of Rick Dees, Ryan Seacrest, Howard Stern and Elvis Duran, Z100’s morning host since 1996.

He also noted that, even after leaving CBS-FM, “I still do show prep — why? I don’t know. That’s just what I do. It’s all about passion, attention to details and your work ethic. It’s all about your attitude. That’s true in any business.”

Shannon also announced, “I’ll be back on the radio,” without offering any further specifics.

As for the advice he shared, he said, “I hope we helped some baby DJs.”

A Trend for Nostalgia

Next up, Radio Advertising Bureau president and CEO Erica Farber led a discussion that touched on the many interpolations currently on pop radio, including Metro Boomin, The Weeknd and 21 Savage’s “Creepin’,” David Guetta and Bebe Rexha’s “I’m Good (Blue),” Meghan Trainor’s “Mother,” and Guetta, Anne-Marie and Coi Leray’s “Baby Don’t Hurt Me,” all currently on Billboard’s Pop Airplay chart. Farber also noted that many commercials are now reaching back for synchs.

Panelist Melissa Chase, Audacy vp of programming and brand manager and program director of KHMX Houston, cited the mass-appeal potential of such songs (also noted this week by SiriusXM and Pandora vp of music programming Alex Tear). “There is a trend for nostalgia and music that [listeners] grew up with — but kids in high school are rockin’ out to TLC,” Chase said. “We’re bringing in a new audience. For some it’s throwback, but other generations heard [an older song] for the first time in a TikTok that went viral.”

‘You Have To Have the Radar Up’

Where will new radio air talent originate? The question arose in a subsequent panel on the second day of the All Access Audio Summit, as it did the day before.

“The Internet,” responded Elizabethany, assistant PD and afternoon host on iHeartMedia’s WIHT Washington, D.C. “Look for the people who are finding interesting ways to tell stories. That’s all we do. You can teach radio, you can’t teach personality. They way I got into radio … I was [filming myself] chasing the Real World cast — my first station saw my videos.”

“There are more places than ever to find talent,” echoed Tim Bronsil, CEO of Point to Point Marketing. “University of Michigan’s social pages are full of talent. Texas A&M’s University has writing that’s pun-oriented — we need that. Look at that 18-to-24 generation.”


Mike McVay, McVay Media president, agreed, lightheartedly ruing that growing up he hosted a radio show … in his parents’ attic that “went nowhere.”

Paige Nienaber, self-described vp of fun ‘n games for CPR promotions, extolled the virtues of looping in stations’ street teams for ideas, recalling a KDWB Minneapolis internal contest to create a T-shirt. The winner — the phrase “sick beets” accompanied by an image of some very overripe beets — was one he marveled would not have come from veteran staffers.

Nienaber also advised, “Some of the best moments in radio have been when radio responded to something bad. You have to have the radar up.” He remembered KS95 Minneapolis’ introduction of local singer-songwriter Zach Sobiech, a then 17-year-old, at the KS95 for Kids Radiothon in December 2012. After he passed away from cancer in May 2013, his song “Clouds” hit No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100. His story inspired the 2020 Disney+ movie of the same name, starring Neve Campbell, among others.

Said Nienaber, “You just have to acknowledge what’s going on.”

‘Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty’

An afternoon panel, moderated by Colby “Colb” Tyner, Urban One/Reach Media senior vp of programming, examined the relationship between radio and record labels. (Denver was the longtime CHR editor at late trade publication Radio & Records.) Historically, the two have been intertwined — most genial when hit songs flow and contentious when radio balks at new offerings — and renew their back-and-forth across the industry with every release.

“Relationships are king,” said Anna Cage, Warner Music Nashville vp of radio. “The music has to stand on its own, but relationships help you connect with radio … which is trying to connect with listeners.”

Said Mike Mullaney, WWBX Boston assistant PD and music director, “You marry yourself with artists. Those relationships can be fostered. I’ve done some of the biggest promotions because of our relationship with record companies.” Among them, he recalled, was choosing then newcomer John Mayer months in advance of the station’s MixFest in the early 2000s; by the time the multiartist concert took place that fall, Mayer had blossomed into a core act.


Relationships are “the bread and butter of what we do,” mused Lee Leipsner, BMG head of pop promotion. “Communication has fallen off a bit — it’s been centralized. The people you have the best relationships with, you know what to bring them, or not bring them. Anyone you’re close to will listen to what you have to say.”

Agreed Erik Olesen, Crush Management head of pop radio promotion, “We are trying to provide content, access to the artist, access to concerts. We’re bringing advertising dollars to the table. It’s a partnership. We’re the content provider — radio is the content amplifier. It’s a very symbiotic relationship we need to have.”

Olesen and Mullaney cited Sia’s then 6-year-old “Unstoppable,” which WWBX added, as Olesen promoted it, leading to fellow Audacy stations playing it and the song hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Pop Airplay chart last October.

Added Jim Murphy, Music Choice director of programming, about label and programmer relationships, “They take work. These are going to be long-lasting. Make the contacts — maintain the contacts. You have to have a very current relationship to get the things you need for your station.”

Key to relationships? Honesty, even when uncomfortable. Mullaney recalled U2 visiting WWBX and Bono asking head of programming Steve Salhany, “What do you think of our new song?” Salhany said, “I don’t think it’s a hit.” “Bono was baffled,” said Mullaney. But, the next summer, U2 played the Mix Beach House. Said Mullaney, “The good things you can do with good relationships and honesty are amazing.”

“We win and we lose together,” said Leipsner.

As Murphy put it, “Dig your well before you’re thirsty. Find a way to get involved with [new artists]. Those relationships start very early and they last for a very long time.”

AI: ‘It’s Going To Take a Long Time To Replace Style

The day’s final session, led by All Access associate country editor Charese Fruge, further considered radio’s future, including the potential usage of artificial intelligence.

“There’s been a lot of chatter about it,” noted Kiana Singh, WBLI Nassau, N.Y., MD. “I don’t know that it would ever replace a jock. At this point, it’s so apparent when you go on ChatGPT … there’s always something just a little bit off about it.”

Said Sheri Lynch, morning host on WKQC Charlotte, N.C., “AI is a tool that helps humans do the job. I think we’ll have AI voice-tracking. You’ll never have AI replace a whole show.”


Radio Hall of Famer and WCBS-FM afternoon talent Broadway Bill Lee sees AI as an opportunity for current or aspiring DJs. “Take creative license and put it all out there,” he challenged. “It’s going to force those who want to be on the air to get out there.” He conceded that, even in New York, AI may “take over all overnight shifts. It’s sufficient.” But, “It’s going to take a long time to replace style.”

Reasoned Fred, WKSC morning host, “I’ve yet to see an AI that has the questionable mental health status that I have.”

Singh, born in the 1990s, said, “I feel like Gen Z might be the most non-BS generation ever to exist, the most diverse across the board. We’re very good BS detectors, frankly. When you’re thinking about AI … is it going to connect?”

Fred suggests that more human talent, not less, will benefit radio, in terms of content and, subsequently, revenue. “I say we bring back [live] nights in top 50 markets,” he proposed. “I know we’re trying to save money. We have to invest now. What’s more expensive? Paying someone now, or, in the future, not having anything to sell?”