Harold Austin is a partner at Global Media where he oversees all aspects of Global Media’s portfolio of Hispanic-based clients, with special emphasis on music testing, callout, and focus groups. Austin is an award-winning radio programmer and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in multiple formats, including Spanish, Top 40, Hip-Hop & R&B, Oldies, Hot AC, AC, and News/Talk. Earlier in his career he served as OM for the top-rated HBC/ Los Angeles cluster and launched the first Jammin’ Oldies-formatted station in the country on KCMG (Mega 100)/Los Angeles, doubling its ratings in one book. From 1996-1997, he programmed leading Urban station KBBT/Los Angeles.
Austin will be on a panel at Radio Ink’s upcoming Hispanic Radio Conference in Fort Lauderdale. He has great insight on the Hispanic Radio format from a programmer’s perspective, not to mention his knowledge for all PD’s because he’s been there and done that. We recently spoke to Austin about his upcoming conference appearance and programming in general.
RI: What can you tell us that is unique when you do research on the Hispanic audience?
Austin: One of the things that stands out is, regardless of what country you are from, Hispanics are passionate, and that reflects on music. It’s not uncommon, if we do a music test, to see higher scores, higher passion, higher interest overall, more embracing of the music, regardless of the format. I think it’s just indicative of the culture. There’s also more of a loyalty factor towards the radio station and personalities. Again, I think it’s a function of the culture, even though Hispanic formats are becoming more diverse all across the U.S., you still you have less choices. For example, here in Los Angeles, which is a market where there are over 25 plus radio stations doing Spanish alone. There’s Spanish rock, A/C, oldies, romantic, you name it. You still can’t compare, even though there’s a lot of choices, the amount of choices that you have in general market. I think because of that the loyalty factor is higher.
RI: What do you recommend to the PD’s that you work with about how they can increase ratings when there’s so much competition these days.
Austin: Oh my. I’m still a big believer that radio is a form of media that evokes passion. When done the right way, regardless of the format, regardless of the target, if you make a connection with the listener, the listener will remember you or will single you out. One of the things that I tell clients all the time is that there’s a reason why people have a favorite radio station. You don’t hear people saying Channel 5 is my favorite TV station. You may have favorite shows or favorite networks, or I really like HBO or the Cooking Channel, but there’s a reason why people have an allegiance with a particular brand on the radio stations, when it’s done the right way. I think being local is still very, very crucial. We are starting to see, now more than ever, particularly with the younger generations, and I’m talking about 30 and under, they have so many choices besides radio to be able to listen to music and listen to content. Now again, you are starting to see how the overall package that a radio station has to offer is very important. The jocks, the message, contesting, the imaging and production, because at the end of the day, a lot of these channels, a lot of these options—Pandora, Spotify, XM Satellite, all of those things—they are not doing it. They are not delivering it. I think that as long as you make a connection….I always like to refer to it as an emotional connection and that you are local and that can relate to your listeners, I think you are always going to have an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack and be able to get ratings and stand out. It’s no easy task. Trust me. I don’t envy being a programmer. Now more than ever it is super challenging. Also, that position itself has shifted so much. There’s so many more responsibilities, where ten to 15 years ago, a program director would have one radio station. Now you have a program director that is running six or seven radio stations or entire networks, and bogged down with meetings and things of that nature and listening to the radio station or how’s the product sounding overall is kind of like an afterthought.
RI: Do listeners care that much about live and local compared to syndication?
Austin: I think they do. But at the same time, if you offer them a product that is engaging, that is entertaining, they are going to listen to it regardless of whether it’s local or whether it’s a syndicated show. If it’s good, they’re going to listen to it. If it’s local, it gives you an ability to monetize it better and be able to have more of a connection with the listeners. Also, from an advertising standpoint, it makes it easier to sell. We have to also be aware of the realities of the business, the climate that we’re in. Syndication is a viable option now. When it’s done the right way, use it. Absolutely.
RI: What are you finding out from the research about social, digital and hos the Hispanic audience uses both?
Austin: More and more the numbers and the figures are starting to show that Hispanics are ahead of the curve, ahead of most other racial groups in terms of usage of social media, certainly mobile phone usage and things of that nature. Those numbers definitely seem to be a little higher for Hispanics than for anybody else. Like everyone else, they use social media as an opportunity, as a platform to express themselves, to get information, to get music. It’s definitely used quite heavily, without a doubt. Radio stations need to embrace that. The smart radio stations, the smart companies and the smart programmers, are using that as an extension of their brand, an extension of the sound of their radio station.
RI: What advice would you give Hispanic-formatted radio stations?
Austin: One of the things I said earlier is that the Hispanic audiences tend to be more loyal and more passionate. I wholeheartedly believe that. We need to capitalize on that better. When I say that, I mean offer them a better product, a better sounding radio station. There are some areas like production, jocks, things of that nature, non-music content that we could improve on, our industry as a whole. It’s always a challenge. With Hispanics, if we focus effort and time into it, I think it can pay off nice dividends.
RI: Same question for program directors. How can they be better tomorrow?
Austin: I think the biggest challenge that program directors have is to be able to really spend time listening to their radio stations. I remember when I used to program, one of my biggest challenges was that I needed to listen to the radio station more so that I could be able to critique it and get ideas as a listener and also as a programmer and so forth. Understanding how your radio station sounds and what you’re doing gives the ability to improve it and make it better. A lot of programmers, because they are bogged down with so many different responsibilities, are not listening to the radio station. Think about it, on average, a PD now is probably in charge of 2, 3, or 4, maybe even more, radio stations. Rarely do you see one program director in charge of only one radio station. Running a radio station just as a single unit is a challenge. It takes time. Imagine running 4 or 5. You should spend as much time as you can working on the product, working with the jocks, working with the music, imagining, social media, all of those things. It is entertainment that we’re providing, whether it’s Rush Limbaugh dissing Obama or Hero on Hot 97 talking about the hip hop scene in New York, or la Gaptita in Miami on El Sol,—at the end of the day, we are delivering a message to a specific audience. Are we doing the best that we can to deliver the message the right way? Are we delivering a good product. I was lucky to work with some great people in the business that always instilled in me that you can never stop working on your radio station. There’s always something that’s going to need attention or work, because it’s like a machine. It’s like an engine. Like, Ok, this is working well but now it needs a little more water, this is starting to get a little rusty…. I have always been a believer that you always have to, it’s a never-ending process.