Trolling the Trolls, Podcasting & Voice-Over: Insights From Day 3 of All Access Audio Summit 2023
A recap of the final day of the industry's virtual gathering of leaders.
The All Access Audio Summit 2023 began Wednesday, April 26, and ran through Friday, April 28. Bringing together leaders in radio, podcasting, production and more, the virtual convention sparked conversation aimed at optimizing the impact of audio in multiple commercial forms.
Here’s a rundown of highlights from the gathering’s third day, when panels were introduced by YEA Networks’ syndicated host Tino Cochino, who aptly summarized the event as “a whole lot of learning, and catching vibes.”
‘We’re for the Masses’
All Access president and publisher Joel Denver opened the day with a conversation with Dave Milner, Cumulus Media president of operations.
“There’s no silver bullet” to successful radio, Milner mused. “It comes down to great local content, and making sure that content is available in multiple platforms. We have to be available any which way people listen to audio. If you put out good content, they will find it and consume it.
“Individuals are spending more time with audio – the pandemic stretched that,” Milner said. “Whether podcast, streaming or broadcast, people want audio.”
Milner also discussed one of the summit’s recurring topics: artificial intelligence. “There’s going to be a place for it,” he said. “It provides opportunities, from writing copy to traffic reports … weather reports … promotions. I have a hard time thinking it will replace any prime-time, personality-based radio.”
Milner cited a recent episode of SiriusXM’s Friday Night Freak-Out With Drew Carey that surreptitiously used AI. “I violated a rule from Radio 101,” Carey subsequently confessed, adding, “The reason treasured radio stations still make money is because people like the personality of the DJs.”
“You can’t replace that human touch, that soul, that connection with the audience,” Milner said.
Milner additionally touched upon another of the summit’s most prominent angles: finding and nurturing future talent. “The biggest thing we can control is how we mentor,” he said. “We’ve had a couple models where we’ve been able to take the third, fourth, fifth people on a morning show and given them an opportunity to have a more singular voice,” as hosts of their own shifts in different dayparts. “It’s helped them grow, and helped the station cross-pollinate and create a more contiguous audience across the station.”
As for fostering hits, “Radio is not the new music discovery place it used to be,” noted Denver, as streaming services have sliced into that share. “They can go deeper than we do,” Milner conceded of DSPs. “We’re more of a mainstream box store – we’re for the masses. It’s harder for us to take chances on a music level. We’ve got to deliver for all people. But on a day-to-day basis, we have the ability to out-local them all day long. Personalities live in communities – that is something the DSPs will never be able to do in an effective way. They’re trying … they know that’s our advantage.”
Atlanta ‘Radio United’
“You have to be in the daily conversation with your audience,” said Jimmy Steal, vp of branding and content for Hubbard Broadcasting’s WMTX and WSHE Chicago, in the day’s second session.
The discussion led to a rare, but rewarding, occurrence in radio: competing stations working together for a common cause, specifically one spearheaded by panelist Terri Avery, director of branding and programming for Cox Media Group’s WALR Atlanta. In late 2022, Avery helmed Black Radio United for the Vote, encouraging listeners to vote in the then-pending run-off election between U.S. Senator Raphael Wornock (the eventual winner) and challenger Herschel Walker. The initiative – among 11 Atlanta area radio stations – helped prospective voters check their voting status, be informed about requirements for in-person voting, get acquainted with a sample ballot and more.
That Avery could create harmony among so many stations in the same market prompted the session’s panel to agree that she herself “should run for Congress.”
Trolling the Trolls
An All Access Audio Summit panel about social media, led by moderator Lori Lewis, president of marketing firm Lori Lewis Media, had fun taking on trolls.
“They’re just looking for attention,” said Jamien “Melz on the Mic” Green, brand manager and afternoon host at Townsquare Media’s KISX Tyler, Texas. “They’re looking to feel something.” His playful strategy: “I’m gonna give you a rise back!”
His favorite online agitators? Those who take the time to craft an intricate post explaining … that they don’t care about your show. “You’ve helped my algorithm with your comment,” he noted.
Ultimately, he believes in the benefits of social media for radio. “You can lure in one listener at a time,” he said. “It’s free promo.”
Podcasting & Talk Radio (& Cheez-Its)
All Access vp of news, talk, sports and podcasting Perry Michael Simon chatted with Steven Goldstein, CEO of Amplifi Media. “We’re at a third of Americans listening to podcasts weekly – just under 90 million people,” Goldstein said. “I think that’s a giant success.”
Meanwhile, Todd Hollst, evening host on Cox Media Group’s talk station WHIO Dayton, Ohio, feels that the format doesn’t always need to be political-leaning. “There’s nonsense, serious moments … it’s not real-life, but it has that feel,” he said of his show, recapping a passion project of his combining fun and localism, and one not likely to stir a deep divide among listeners, depending on their stance on snacks: as Cheez-Its originated in Dayton in 1921, Hollst started a petition to build a statue in their honor. (No wonder he refers to himself as a wisecracker.)
VO & AI
Kelly “K3” Doherty, president and founder of Imaging House, posed one of the All Access Audio Summit’s most pointed questions, to voice-over and production specialists: Would you take a job recording AI, knowing it could ultimately result in a loss of further work?
“That’s a tough question,” pondered Scott Chambers, president of Scott Chambers VO. “Maybe, if my attorneys looked over the contract really well and I got residuals. The contract would have to be really good and lucrative.”
“I would probably prefer not to,” answered Donovan Corneetz, president of DonCo Productions. “I would not want to contribute to a tool to put me out of work. It wouldn’t serve the industry as a whole very well.”
Said Yinka Ladeinde, president of Yinka’s Voice, “I would like to say I would never do it. I would probably hold out until absolutely necessary.”
Doherty expressed concern that any recorded words could be stitched together to create audio considered offensive, or even incriminating, echoing the need for an airtight contract. Still, she noted that AI would be helpful when realizing a mistake had been made and the voice-over talent wasn’t subsequently available, or when copy is revised. “There are positives and negatives,” she said.
The panel also mused about its side of the business overall, and how sometimes factors are out of a talent’s control, regardless of how well a job is performed. Corneetz recalled once losing out on a gig because, he was later told about a client, “you sound just like her ex-husband … whom she hates.”
‘Our Superpower Is Human Connection’
In the summit’s final session, participants looked to the future of audio, and radio specifically, with another focus on AI.
Thea Mitchem, executive vp of programming for iHeartMedia, stressed the need not to dismiss AI, remembering that, around Y2K, certain executives for whom she then worked didn’t seem concerned enough about the rise of digital audio; even at the time, she thought that they should’ve been. “Technology has always moved things,” she said. “I think all industries have to embrace technology.” Still, she said about radio, repeating a common theme over the convention’s three days, “I think our superpower is human connection. There’s a trust level there.”
Said Kurt Johnson, Townsquare Media senior vp of content, “The concern with AI is no one knows where it’s going, and it’s going really fast. Copyright is a big issue. Like everyone else, were learning very quicky. We’re very big at generating local content. AI could contribute to that, but our people are what make our content.”
Added Keith Hastings, brand content director of Hubbard Broadcasting’s WDRV Chicago, of AI, “With rights come responsibilities. With opportunities comes responsibility. We have to study it and be careful with it.”
Agreed Jeff Sottolano, Audacy executive vp of programming, “All of us have a responsibility to experiment with it. I think there’s a lot of upside. Ask ChatGPT to write a 30-second script and I think you’ll be impressed – it might get you 80% of the way there.”
Johnson summed up his optimism about radio going forward (pointing out that the company’s name reflects how air talents in every market “are the town square”). “What radio provides hasn’t changed,” he said. “When you combine multi-platform – digital, radio, live events – you’re going to find people of all age groups. We have powerful tools to do it – that’s the exciting thing.”