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October 27, 2014:
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A Digital Leader: WTOP-FM DC

Mike Stiles

Just as you begin to wonder if radios ever going to be allowed by its current owners and managers to evolve into future business models, along comes a beacon of hope, proving that innovation, risk, foresightedness, ambition, nimbleness, and creativity are still alive and kicking inside our industry. Hubbards WTOP-FM, Washington (103.5) made the decision they were going to be more than a radio station. They were going to be a digital news organization.  They werent like, we should kinda look into this, or we might lean that direction one day.  They did it.  While most stations are cutting staff and hanging onto the platform theyve got for dear life, WTOP doubled its staff and is building a new platform so theyll have somewhere to jump.

Jump is probably the wrong word.  The imminent changes in our industry wont require something as sudden as a jump.  But they definitely demand an evolution in what we do and how we do it.  And the construction of that next phase should probably start sooner rather than later.

In checking with WTOPs Sr. VP/GM Joel Oxley, I got the story behind the strategy.

1. Hubbard, the operations owner, is encouraging and supporting these efforts.  You heard mea station group taking a risk and trying something new!

2. Oxley thinks news and info is an ideal format to take digital, but says all formats can take advantage of digital opportunities once theyve found what makes sense for them.

3. Its not either/or.  A commitment to a digital does NOT hurt your on-air property.  It extends your brand, and shows listeners & advertisers youre engaged in the latest digital opportunities.  Oxley says, Its hard to say what form of distribution will be most important as we go forward, but we will not keep up if we dont maximize every way to distribute our product.

4. Speaking of advertisers, they WANT you to be engaged in the latest digital opportunities.  Oxley says theirs think its a must for them to be in this space in a big way.  They want to know the station is keeping up with marketing options.

5. As for the social component, WTOP is continuing to find the best ways to use Facebook and Twitter.  They want it to enhance everything they do, from a product, marketing, distribution and revenue standpoint.

6. Stations are reluctant to invest because they demand instant ROI.  Oxley says youre probably not going to get that.  But theyve already seen growth in the people interacting with the brand, so they know theyre benefiting where branding and distributing their product are concerned. 

Being at a station that was not looking to the future and actively preparing for it while I watched stations like WTOP get in the game would make me really nervous.

Mike Stiles is a writer/producer with the social marketing tech platform, Vitrue, and head of Sketchworks comedy theatre. Check out his monologue blog, The Stiles Files.
Find him on Facebook or on Twitter @mikestiles




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