Jim Leven (pictured) and Bruce Mittman started Community Broadcasters back in 2006. Today their growing company owns 15 stations in 4 small upstate New York markets and three South Carolina markets. Both are featured in our upcoming May 23rd issue that focuses on independent operators.
Leven began his radio career at the age of 14. He worked as an announcer, talk show host, sports host, program director, general manager and group head. In 1990, Leven formed Pilot Communications, with the acquisition of WAQX, Syracuse. Under his leadership, the company grew to 20 stations in 5 markets, and was sold to Citadel in 2000.
After a brief stab at retirement, boredom set in and Leven called his good friend Mittman, who he first met at a Bangor, Maine radio station in the 80’s and they put their plan together for Community Broadcasters. In our upcoming issue, we asked both Levin and Mittman what they would like to see the industry do better. Here’s what Levin had to say…
#1) The industry needs to do is to embrace HD. People, when I say that, look at me like I’m crazy. They’re wrong. HD puts the radio business on the map, both from the perspective of auto manufacturers, from people who love digital as much as they love broadcast, in a number of ways. It’s the nexus between radio as it has always been and radio with new technology. It gives you an opportunity to advance and develop new products, to make the product look good as well as sound good. We need to embrace it. If we did, frankly, the costs would come down dramatically. There are 2,000 HD stations allegedly on air right now. That leaves 10 or 11 thousand that aren’t. If we decided to embrace the technology, what would happen to the price? Where it’s 75 to 100 to 150 thousand a station to go HD, it would be a quarter of that, maybe less. The prices would go down, the industry would be much more visible, where it needs to be.
#2) It’s the basics. It’s caring about the community. It is focusing on all of the tentacles that radio has, whether it’s streaming, whether it’s digital, whether it’s creating SEO/SEM, whether it’s simply talking to customers and finding out what their problems are, and saying “You know what? We have a lot of smart people and I may not have the answer right now, but I’m going to go back to the radio station, we’re going to brainstorm, we’ll do a creative problem-solving session, and we will come back with an idea so that you can sleep through the night.” Now once you do that, you have a customer for life and a customer that doesn’t care what the cost per point is, because you just allowed him to sleep through the night. You are doing your job.
#3) Serve your three customers. There are three sets of customers. Caring about the client is one set (see above) Next, from a corporate point of view, you look at the employees. Are you giving them opportunities? Are you rewarding them when they do a good job? Are you paying them what you can afford to pay? We certainly do. Then the third set, are you serving the audience? Do you really care? Do you care about the community? Do you care about the product? Whether you’re doing a little bit of voice-tracking or you’re live and local all the time—certainly more live and local is better. It’s inarguable. Frankly, Pilot Communications invented virtual radio. We were the first people to voice-track. And I kind of feel guilty about that, even though it saved us a lot of money. Voice-tracking, incidentally, is not inherently an evil or bad thing, if you voice-track properly. These days, it’s so much easier. When we started doing it in the early 90s, between Syracuse and Augusta, ME, we were faxing pages of newspapers back and forth, so the jocks, when they were cutting the voice-tracks, would talk about things that really mattered to the community. Now you go online and you can find out whatever you want. Everyone has a local news site or a local newspaper that you can read online. If you do it that way, what you’re doing is importing better talent into various markets that still serve the community. And management has to be involved, involved in charitable organizations, civic organizations. You really have to do what radio has always done best—serve the public interest, convenience and necessity. If we would just do that, the
sky is the limit. It truly is. I think radio will be with us for a considerable period of time. Like our company, a lot of other companies that serve smaller markets, can do very well.
Reach out to Jim to say hello at [email protected]
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