DAY TWO OF Ron Stone

32

Ron Stone is the President and CEO of the Adams Radio Group. Adams now has 22 signals in four markets — Fort Wayne, Northwest Indiana, Salisbury/Ocean City, and Las Cruces, NM. The company started in 2013. Stone was CFO for the old Adams Radio Group, for Steve Adams, back in the 80s and 90s. Everybody went their separate ways after consolidation. One day in 2013, Ron picked up the phone, called Steve, and said, “The multiples look pretty attractive, why don’t we get back in?” They bought Las Cruces in 2013, and then Fort Wayne and Northern Indiana the following summer. Stone is part of the upcoming Independent Warrior Special Report in the May 23 issue of Radio Ink magazine. As part of that report, we asked every one of the independent operators we interviewed what they would like to see radio do better, to make it stronger. Here’s what Ron Stone had to say….

RI: What would you like to see radio do better as an industry?
Stone: One of the things that I’ve noticed the most, especially like at the NAB, in fact, I got really frustrated a couple of years ago at the NAB because it was almost like there was nothing being talked about, about radio. Everything was digital. Every single conversation was digital. I remember going to one of the bigger lunches and they had a panel up on the stage, and I went in there thinking, “Wow I’m going to hear some real insights from these industry leaders about where our industry is going.” And, after about 30 minutes of hearing non-stop digital conversation, I got up and walked out. I thought, you know what, this isn’t helping me. Even if I’m doing all the digital in the world, 90% of my business is still going to be traditional radio. Talk to me about that. Talk to me about how we can use our radio stations to better serve our communities, to better serve the charities in our communities. Because on the boards of those charities are business people that also spend money in advertising. When we help them, it comes back to us. Talk to me about that, how we can do that better. Talk to me about how I can use assets in Fort Wayne better and utilize those assets that maybe will help me in Las Cruces. Talk to me about how I can work within my own company structure to make radio better. I think that’s our biggest issue right now, is we are all too caught up — not that we should ignore it — but we are so caught up in the new shiny objects that I think we are forgetting, in a large way, what radio is about, has always been about, and will always be about.

I said this to somebody the other day. We were having a conversation and this was someone that was… I don’t know if they were just testing me or they really believed this, but they said, “Radio is pretty much a thing of the past. I don’t know how you guys are going to have a future.” I said, “Well, I will tell you the easiest way I could prove to you that you’re wrong. If a tornado or a hurricane came through your community and ripped it apart and all the cell towers were down, here’s what would happen first: even if the radio station somehow went off the air, they would get a generator in there, they would get back on the air. If their tower came down, they would find a tall building to put a temporary antenna on. Within 24-36 hours, your radio station would be operational again. And you would have a staff that would be committed to making sure that all the information that you need to be safe, you and your family, what you need to do to get fresh water, food, all of that information would be broadcast on your live radio stations. You wouldn’t be getting that information from the Internet. You wouldn’t be getting it from your desktop. You wouldn’t be getting it from your mobile device. You would be doing everything you could to find a transistor radio that you could turn on with a battery and be able to listen to what we’re telling you, because that’s what is going to keep you safe. And that’s not going to change no matter what comes out. That’s not going to change. Our ability to do that, our ability to move quickly and mobilize and make sure that a community is safe — nobody does it better. This person had zero comeback at that point. They had nothing to go on.

Reach out to Ron Stone at ronstone@adamsradiogroup.com
To subscribe to Radio Ink magazine in time to receive this issue, GO HERE.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Wild in San Francisco used to have AE’s spend their first couple of days on the street team, so they could go out, meet the listeners, listen to the station LIKE a listener will listen, and learn the product. My favorite sales person in Charlotte went from cell phones to radio to print to gas pump TV spots. She immersed herself in whatever she was selling and became fluent in it. Working with a couple of hundred stations across the US, Canada, Europe and Africa, when sales requests some through, they’re often asking for social media and web elements for promotions. Don’t think of “digital” as static ads. It’s visual and can change every day and be a series and engage people. In Boise we had people shoot ducks as they flew across the site to win sports gear. In Albany we took a client’s AWFUL request for “call and tell us about your experiences shopping for furniture” and turned it into an on-line game of Clue to solve what staff member had absconded with Brian’s “Medium Market CHR Male Morning Show Co-Host” trophy to win $16,000 in furniture. In Greenville a nice restaurant was going to reopen after remodeling. The AE tried to sell them a remote. The client said “Remotes sucked ten years ago and they haven’t gotten better with age” and sent him back to the station. We created a version of “Hells Kitchen”. A two week video series as the morning show learned to cook (and did stuff like set their hair on fire) and opening night they were the cooks and all of the money went to Breast Cancer research. Think outside the banner ad. Six years ago the GM in Evansville said he was making as much from digital as he was from traditional spots. You just need to change the way you think of it. Radio suddenly has a visual to show all the cool stuff we do. And when there’s a tornado? I still turn to 830 CCO.

  2. Needless to say, none of us know about everything digital “out there” right now and of course zero about what will be coming down the pike. With that said, we all have opinions and that is pretty much what this article was about as well as all of our comments here on Radio Ink. Yes, Even mine. I will add, however, that because I am a “digital” services developer and provider to the radio industry (starting in 1991), and being a former major market jock as well as owning an independent radio production/advertising business, it’s safe to say I spend more time than most radio people studying what is out there in the digital realm and probably better equipped to see how radio can benefit from specific offerings from the digital space.

    Digital applications for terrestrial radio is still a blossoming field and still has a way to go before the applications are so useful as to become ubiquitous. More needs to be done and IS being done as well as refined and better customized to benefit T-radio. You may be sick and tired of the hype but that shouldn’t impact your judgement of the digital business nor dampen your search for benefits to radio.

  3. Note to Bill Bester: I only had one beer. Honest. 🙂
    Meanwhile I do offer my apology for ascribing someone else’s comment to you.
    I have no excuse for my mistaken assumption.

  4. As having spent the majority of my career on the digital side of radio, my view on this might come as somewhat of a surprise. I wholeheartedly feel the industry has put too much focus on digital. I think it all comes down to a fundamental business model issue. Primarily the lack of a digital business model. The desire to generate revenue is not a business model. In my experience there have been 3 major fatal flaws in radio’s approach to digital.

    1. Digital is a CPM world and in order to succeed, you need a lot of Ms.
    I think iHeart was smart in their plan to take advantage of their scale. You can make money with scale. You can’t make money on 9 people that love Foghat. I have sat in so many infuriating corporate meetings where people have traveled across the country to shout at the rain and pontificate about generating “revenue”. Not one minute is focused on developing a content plan to grow sustainable audience to a station’s digital platforms (bribing people with points and prizes is not a sustainable content strategy.)

    If radio had spent just a quarter of their time on developing a long-term, audience driven strategy, that has been spent developing virtual auto malls, bridal guides or living social knock offs, radio could have created Pandora, Pitchfork or Buzzfeed.

    2. Why don’t we just open an Applebee’s?
    Due to the lack of audience to its digital products, stations eventually came to the realization that it had to venture into other ancillary ventures. Half-price deals, coupons, affinity programs, have all been the flavor of the months and have all been knock offs of other companies that do it much better. They have also for the most part have fizzled out. There are a lot of businesses that can make money. That doesn’t mean that a station needs to shift its focus onto something outside of its core competency regardless of how synergistic it might seem. Radio has a lot of auto dealers on the, maybe they should start opening gas stations. While these programs did generate short term revenue, they haven’t proven to be sustainable over time.

    3. Opportunity cost
    This is the big one. So much time has been spent on flawed initiatives, reps trying to sell a $4,000 digital program instead of getting $40,000 in radio revenue and creative accounting in turning your live concert into digital revenue.

    There is a definitely a model that combines digital assets and radio to elevate the overall audience and advertiser experience. There are some radio stations out there that have truly become multimedia brands. The problem has been that instead of embracing the core competency of the industry and evolving it into the digital age, much of the industry has become apologetic for its roots and are attempting to morph into an inferior version of the industry that is displacing it.

  5. In the most recent hard copy edition of Radio Ink, Eric wrote a piece on radio’s “one thing” – openly wondering as to what that might be.
    A station’s website, the drain on resources to keep it functional and the efforts to make it profitable – ain’t that “one thing”.
    Meanwhile, Bill Bester, with all sincerity, mistakenly labelled the station websites as “The print version”.
    Radio Ink magazine is a “print version”. Websites – including this one – are “electronic version” and, as such, have a completely different accessing dynamic.
    Radio, in general, and almost pervasively, has yet to make even that distinction.

    • Mr. Robinson:
      Please scroll sober.
      It was consultant Patric who labeled station web sites “print versions” of a station, while I commented that radio, an audio medium, was built without print.
      You have a lot of fondness for “pervasively” as a description of behavior.

      With All Sincerity,
      Bill

  6. Note to commenters:

    I started moderating the comments after some of them had nothing to do with Ron’s article. And, I removed the personal attack comments. Let’s try to stick to the topic.

    Thanks

    Ed Ryan
    Editor
    Radio Ink Magazine
    edryantheeditor@gmail.com

  7. I’m a former rep in Canada. I carried at web budget for 5+ years. After the first few years and working out kinks, myself and a few others on a staff of 10-12 reps I was selling a lot of digital ROS campaigns and custom promotions. In my last year digital represented about 6% of my overall budget (in a medium sized market).

    Clients like it. It’s a way to bring in NTR (although now should be traditional… it’s been awhile) and provide custom, dynamic solutions. It’s an opportunity to educate and do more for your client, rather than sell dots and spots.

    I find it exciting. And listeners enjoy great radio content on the web/phone!

    Robyn
    17 Years in Broadcast, 15 in Broadcast Sales

  8. To the contrary: Those who refuse to consider feedback – from whatever sources – are the ones who, indeed, have their heads inserted… somewhere unpleasant.
    Radio is too powerful (and still somewhat pervasive) a medium for the leadership to get caught up in what is not part of its core services, particularly since those core services have been thrashed to shreds and bled out over the last 20-25 years.

    • Mr. Robinson,
      I normally don’t speak to you since I consider you a bore, but please take note that Ed Ryan’s interview series with successful radio executives is not intended to evoke webtrash from anyone, but serve as an example to those in the industry who look to other radio people for inspiration and a good track to follow. The first two interviews are terrific. “Used-To-Be’s” in radio like your countryman are “formers” for a reason. The people who really understand radio and are good at it stay in it. Others…are not much of a source. They did not make it.

  9. This series is about stations..independents..who seem to be doing nicely running radio stations in 2016. The comments are from radio people who are actually doing it.
    I’m really not interested in feedback from consultants, people in radio who are doing poorly and are lost, radio critics who have never managed stations, and “used to be in radio” onlookers who did not prosper, thereby stay in the business. Nice to hear kudos from other owners and radio people. Our head is not in the sand. It is hard at work, employed in a business that we love and one that some others here do not. If we want your feedback, we’ll look for you.

  10. From my world, the drastic improvement in the generation of on-air presentations and the creation of better and more influential, locally-produced commercials trumps absolutely everything else.
    A great deal of this discussion is, to me, about how radio has been distracted and waylaid from its core products and services.
    The number of thoughtful comments offered on this article can be a demonstration, as well, about how seriously the leadership takes the monetization of the websites as it applies to the priority-lists.
    The priorities are misaligned – and the expenses are still significant.
    There are also consequences – loss of potential revenues – for being focussed on the less important elements of which the station websites are a prime example.

  11. With all due respect, I heard the exact same arguments about FM from certain people in 1968.
    By the time they woke up, they lost their influence with a whole generation.

    • That did happen, Peter. But, remember, FM did fail once before it caught on. FM licenses were actually given up by their owners, thinking that they were worthless.
      But, FM was Radio-an audio medium and Congress decreed that all U.S. manufactured radios must be AM/FM which gave the new life to the dead band.
      I think radio’s involvement in internet/digital at this point is largely superficial, an application looking for a purpose. And, I don’t think the connection is there. So much time, effort and money has been spent by stations trying to merge the two, and it largely has not succeeded-because they are two different media, both wonderful, but different and incompatible. If all that effort, time and money had been spent on just hiring good sales staff and on-air people the financial picture of the industry would be much different today. Just my opinion….after decades of ownership (I’ve never been a consultant).

  12. While the sentiment behind the article feels like it’s coming from the right place, the fact that you separate “digital” and “radio” is a good indicator that your head is still stuck in the proverbial sand. The main point of having a great website and engaging mobile app is to get users to listen more!

    As for Shelly’s comment, you clearly don’t know the right operators! Using the right tools will turn digital from a cost center to a profit center, and with an attitude like yours, you will never make any money on the digital side. Also, by learning how to properly use digital techniques like geo-fencing, you can define your market reach with incredible accuracy.

    Your last statement is especially troubling for the future of the industry. You won’t see any successful stations that have zero digital presence because they are being bought up by the groups who have already adopted digital, increased their annual bottom line by 10%, and are hungry to pick the low-hanging fruit. Not only that, but you do an incredible disservice to your ad partners by not providing them additional methods to advertise to their customers.

    With the amount of data available on how digital media is truly revolutionizing the radio industry, it is disheartening to see that so many people are not only standing still, but worse, trying to move back in time.

    Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. I can only hope that, sooner rather than later, radio stations will realize that the broadcasting landscape has changed drastically, and stations can either embrace those changes or struggle to survive.

    • Sounds like the proponents of socialism when told it has never worked anywhere.
      “The right people haven’t done it”.
      Do consultants spend all their daylight time on this site looking for a dollar?

      • Thank you for your revolutionary insight, it definitely contributed a great deal to the conversation. I’m simply adding my two cents in on a topic I feel strongly about. Nobody here is looking for any money, so unless you have something somewhat meaningful to say, keep it to yourself.

        • Read closer. Consultant who “used to own an agency” is here. My, isn’t that a resume.
          Oh, “something somewhat meaningful” as in comments to agree with you?

          • It’s fairly clear that you have nothing relevant to say on this topic. Posting snarky comments just illuminates your ignorance. I posted my views to start a constructive dialogue, not banter with ignorant trolls.

  13. You’re a brave man to dare question the mighty digital movement. I agree with you totally. I have insisted that in our Company we should spend 90% our energy and time talking about 90% of our main source of revenue: old fashtioned spot schedules for our clients. We do have websites that stream our audio and Facebook pages which we keep interactive with our listeners. However, how effective we are in selling the remarkable value of a well crafter spot schedule on our own air is still where 90% of our revenue is generated. When our clients continue to renew their business on our stations year after year tells me that radio still works as well as it always has in delivering the sponsor’s message to a wide audience that uses our client’s products and services. Radio does reach more people each week than ANY OTHER MEDIUM, including television. It oesn’t look like radio is dying…it’s not even sick.

  14. This continues the old school radio argument that “Digital” is an either/or proposition. Digital is another delivery platform that should broaden your local communication opportunities, and if used correctly can actually build your terrestrial audience. The real problem here isn’t the medium, it is the way it is/isn’t being used. Letting your jocks play on Facebook (which can’t be monetized), or simply re-posting YouTube videos, instead of creating your own unique, hyper-local content, is the real issue.

    Your web sites need to be the “print version” of what you are saying on air, always remembering that delivering information, while providing a connection to your advertisers, is the primary purpose of your company. It’s not HOW you communicate, it’s WHAT you communicate. “Digital” should just be an expansion tool to reach more listeners more effectively.

    • Why do we need a “print version”? Radio was built on audio alone.
      Oh yes, you’re the consultant who posted yesterday, looking for clients. I think that you’re the one “in need”, not us.

      • Bill… to the contrary. I am not looking for clients. I have a novel approach to providing services to our clients; tell the truth. Even when it is difficult to deliver the message.

        I love radio. But, thankfully, I don’t have to rely on radio for the bulk of our revenue. I was directed here by one of our clients, who is equally appalled at what they are seeing here. The client, a radio station, has not only embraced all that new media options have to offer, but have done so, with existing staff and little investment, with a return in time that has yielded new listeners, new advertisers, and new relevance in their community.

        In short…they use ALL of the tools at their disposal. I get it…radio is struggling to understand their own future. But, admitting that you don’t understand, or are misusing the options is the first part of correcting the problem. Continuing to say that “there is no problem” is a sure bet toward failure.

        Not looking for clients…because we actually won’t work with clients who “already know everything,” but continue to fail.

        • First, I’m happy that your stations are doing well with the digital. To me that’s great and I’d like to learn more. We have a website and stream and all that but I’m betting somehow I’m doing it wrong.

          In my opinion the author is not saying abandon the internet or digital, but how about talking about “traditional” radio too? My stand alone AM station is in a very small market,(we have more cows than people in my county of license), and there are many in my county that still have dial up internet! I have a very limited budget. So for me to go “all in” and make an elaborate digital presence it would me that I would lose the ability to continue to learn how to improve our commercial production to give clients effective commercials and more importantly I’d have to give up the ability to cover city council, school board, and county board meetings, along with not covering our local high school sports. I know that if I did that, I would lose and lose big time. My community wants and expects my station to cover those events using the radio station and not the internet. In my corner of the world, over 95% of my revenue is coming from on air and not online. It’s not that we haven’t tried selling the digital, but my clients are still skeptical. Maybe my area is stuck in a time warp.

          What does the future bring? I’m not sure, but a mentor of mine told me this before I bought the station in 2011. It doesn’t matter if its AM or FM or Internet or even smoke signals. If you do what your community wants and care about your community, they will care about you.

  15. Bravo! Thank you for saying what needed to be said! Yes digital has a place but it can’t be the only thing! I had a client that only used Facebook for his restaurant. He refused to do any radio or other “old media” advertising telling me “I don’t need to advertise, I have over 3,000 likes on Facebook”. His restaurant lasted only 6 months. But hey..he had 3,000 likes!

  16. A long overdue article. People employed in radio have suffered from an inferiority complex for about 50 years, since the 1950s when TV invaded American homes and everyone talked about it daily, much like today’s digital products are discussed.
    Radio grew enormously during those 50 years, from a few thousand stations to more than 13,000 today, despite constant TV chatter; color TV, cable TV, satellite TV, digital TV (sound familiar?).
    Sort of a penile envy-subject was doing fine, but something was missing.
    I think it’s time radio people grew up and realized that we are not in the video business and never will be. Shake off the useless penile envy.

  17. In 2008, our community was hit with what was referred to as a “dry hurricane”. 50% of our area lost power for up to 15 days as the power company scrambled to restore service. Many people in our area lost telephone service, internet, electric. There was no way to watch TV, you had to find enough ice to fill your coolers so that the food in your refrigerator didn’t spoil and you were cooking on gas grills or propane stoves.

    Our radio station group has a newstalk station. We blew off ALL syndication and went live and local 19 hours a day for ten days, giving people news and information, taking phone calls, giving the locations and times of ice and generator deliveries, and at the end of the day won great credit for pulling the community together in a time of crisis.

    The TV stations ran promos that crowed, “WE were the first to tell you this. WE were the first to tell you that.” Our response? “Fine…but most TV’s weren’t working and there are very few battery powered digital TV’s.”

  18. Bravo, Ron.
    It seems almost politically incorrect to talk about radio today. As a consultant, I’m charged with bringing my radio clients proven ways to generate new revenues, yet I risk being labelled a dinosaur if I don’t jump on the crowded digital bandwagon. The ironies are many;
    First, everyone, from newspaper to yellowpages and from pure plays to local TV, is selling some form of digital in this fragmented and over-crowded word.Digital will never be our ‘unique selling proposition’
    Secondly, our TOMA surveys consistently prove the power of radio in creating Top Of Mind Awareness for local advertisers and that consumers prefer to scan their search engine page and click on a business they’ve heard of,on radio, before they’ll click on a business at the top of the digital page if they have not heard of them.
    Thanks for speaking out!

  19. Fine article. I don’t know any radio operator who is really, truly making any money off their website when you factor in all the associated costs of set-up and man-hours. Do I really care if someone on the other side of the country is listening to my streaming signal? Do “likes” make me feel good (Likes are for low self-worth pimply teenagers) Do they make any money? Is it in my best interest that people are reading my local news on a site and not listening to it on-air? Does the constant chatter about this and that being “on-line” or at dot-com by the announcers help radio? Ed Ryan- I’d like to read about a station that has no digital presence-no web site, no streaming, that concentrates only on it’s on-air efforts. Think of the man-hours properly applied! Bet that they are doing fine.

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