From Radio Disney To Digital Boss


Last week, Alpha Media named Ernie Martinez National Director of Digital Content. Martinez has come a long way from his first gig in radio, back in 1997, when he was 19 and a producer for Radio Disney. As the head of Alpha’s Digital Division, Martinez is now responsible for the digital strategy for hundreds of Alpha’s radio stations, and that includes finding ways to bring in digital revenue. We reached out to Martinez to ask him about his philosophy on digital, on streaming and on social media, whether there’s any real revenue in digital, and how he climbed the ladder of success from Disneyworld to Larry’s World. Here’s what he had to say.

Radio Ink: You started in radio at the age of 19. Twenty years later you have quite an important role with one of radio’s largest companies. Tell us a little bit about that journey.
Martinez: All my experiences up to this point in my career have been instrumental in preparing me for this opportunity. When I first started in radio, I was lucky enough to get an internship in Dallas where I worked for free filing papers and learning how to cut tape (back when we actually had to use wax pencils and razor blades)! From there, I was lucky enough to work with one of the most respected programmers in all of CHR at the time at the number one station in the market (KHKS-FM/Dallas). Being surrounded by the hustle of the programming team and air talent at KISS in Dallas was a HUGE learning opportunity to me. It taught me how to think bigger and I found my passion for being a creative.

In 1997, I started my career with Radio Disney as a producer. It was a wild ride! During my time there, I was able to be a part of so many amazing experiences! From doing broadcasts from Disneyland and Walt Disney World, to being in the Lion King on Broadway!  In 2008, I was promoted to Creative Director. Little did I know that the next year was going to be pivotal, both for me as well as the Radio Disney brand. That year, we started experimenting and trying to find the best ways to bring radio and digital together. Truth be told, as a radio purist I was hesitant to embrace digital and social platforms. We quickly saw some successes in how digital, social media, and our on-air product can all serve each other and give stations the potential to take themselves beyond the confines of their local markets. This is when I was reminded that audiences love stories. We respond and relate to them, no matter the medium. Digital and social media are just another method of telling stories, something we have been doing in radio since the beginning.

Radio Ink: Along the way, what would you consider some of your biggest successes to help you get to where you are?
Martinez: In my view, you never succeed solely on your own. One thing that has been constant in my career is the fact that I have always valued people and relationships. Just like anyone else, I had to have some reminders about this along the way. In addition, I believe my career has been, and continues to be, about creating a space for others to authentically express themselves. When you invest in others, you are destined for success.

Radio Ink: Did you have any mentors? If so, who?
Martinez: When I was first starting in the business, Sammi Gonzalez was the first person that “hired” me. She had a HUGE impact on my formative years in radio. She instilled lots of knowledge and good working habits, even when there was a desire to take the short cuts. She was brutally honest with me and I later appreciated her for that. I really owe her a lot, not just in terms of my career, but for so many more life lessons that taught me what it really means to be a great leader, mentor, and collaborator.

Radio Ink: You left radio for awhile, what did you do and what brought you back?
Martinez: After 20 years at Disney, it was time to take that next step in my career. To me that meant immersing myself in the digital content space and followed another passion of mine. Being Latino and recognizing that we are under-represented in mainstream media, I headed to a company who’s mission it was to further that cause and break stereotypes.  Given my previous experience and relationships, I took on the role of VP, Talent Partnerships at mitu — a digital content company creating short- and long-form content for American Latino audiences. This is something that is still extremely close to my heart. It was hard to leave, given there is still so much work to do to close that gap. At the end of the day, I had learned so much about the digital content space during my time at Radio Disney and mitu, that I had missed being in radio, and more so, being creative. Thankfully, I get to be creative in this new role and am excited to return to my first love of radio. I am so thankful to Phil and Scott at Alpha for giving me this huge opportunity.

Radio Ink: Regarding digital, specifically: Is there real money for radio to be made in digital or is the industry simply taking money from one pocket and putting it in the other?
Martinez: If you are smart and take advantage of the tools that digital has to offer, there is real money to be made there today and even more money in the future. If you take that one step further, you will figure out a way to create digital content that matters to your audience, then utilize that data to help inform other decisions; potentially making smarter programming and sales decisions. Most brands are willing to pay for a compelling digital offering. A compelling on-air plus digital package is even more appealing. Broadcasting companies just need to build what works best for their audiences on digital, then they need to learn how to sell it. The old saying that you have to spend money to make money is so true in this case. It’s no different than flipping formats or starting fresh in a new market.  You invest in building your platform’s influence and audience first, then you get to monetize it.

Radio Ink: What are the most successful platforms for radio (financially, to make money). What should the industry be focusing on? 
Martinez: The industry, or any other entity for that matter, should be focused on creating and building its O&O digital platforms and increasing reach and engagement on socials. Social media has already taken the place of bumper stickers, t-shirts, and billboards.  These used to be the ways you marketed your station and personalities. There is so much more opportunity to get your brand in front of bigger audiences on social and promote your priorities — but also being careful that you do not “build your house on rented land.”  Meaning, do not be dependent on one or two platforms that some one else owns. This opens you up to a ton of risk as these places can, and have, changed the rules. These platforms will always do what is best for them, just like any other business.

Radio Ink: Can money be made in social media?
Martinez: There is real money in monetizing brand and influence. Artists, actors, YouTube, and Instagram influencers do this every day, charging brands thousands of dollars for ONE post. It’s why most successful major marketing campaigns also have some sort of influencer marketing strategy attached. I would encourage you to Google the highest-earning social media influencers and see how much money they pulled in, just in 2017.  Brands are open to paying them because of their loyal following and how they are able to activate their audience. Most artists and bigger music brands are already monetizing their platforms and these platforms have become destinations for audiences. Currently, it seems as though some in the radio industry are standing on the sidelines watching as these digital dollars are spent elsewhere because they do not have a compelling offering.

Radio Ink: What about streaming?
Martinez: The more I talk to Millennials and the more I see the data, streaming and podcasting are major players and should absolutely be a part of an overall digital strategy.  You have to be where the people are. Currently, almost 80% of all adults in the U.S. own a smartphone, with 94% of those people being between the ages of 18-29, according to a recent study by Pew Research. If you don’t have some way to reach these young people as they are on the go, it is a missed opportunity. I say all this with the caveat that you have to be smart when placing these strategic bets. You can’t just jump in head first without knowing what you want to achieve. Podcasting and streaming are both great ways to introduce and evangelize young adult audiences to your brand(s) and content.

Reach out to Ernie to congratulate him at [email protected]


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