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Chase-ing Radio's Future
Up Close With Clear Channel SVP Of Programming Marc Chase

By Fred Deane

Marc Chase has a rich and rewarding radio background. Rich because he has run the gamut of positions at radio. From jocking overnights to afternoons to mornings, to APD, PD and OM gigs at a variety of successful stations including Jacor stalwarts WEBN/Cincinnati and WFLZ/Tampa. Rewarding because Marc has risen to the top of the ranks of, at first Jacor, as SVPP/Midwest Region, and currently as Clear Channel SVPP/Mid-South and Southeast Region, where he is part of a world class programming brain trust.

Can radio draw parallels to the music industry regarding emerging technology that has repositioned the labels in their relationship to consumers? Many feel the recognition and reaction to change came too late.
Grasshopper, out of the existing chaos the butterfly will emerge. The form and color are, as yet, unknown. Sorry, I just downloaded the best of David Carradine as Caine from the TV show Kung Fu on my video iPod and Iím having flashbacks.  Radioís version of the iPod isnít on the shelf yet, but we know itís coming. Clear Channel is making changes today to prepare to take advantage of the new shifts in technology. Before you can take the pebble from my hand ďfreeĒ HD radio will be everywhere. So go getcha some!

With radio trending to more library-driven formats like Jack and more talk formats like Free FM, what do you perceive to be radioís philosophy regarding the younger demo?
As long as the 25-54 demographic is king, I donít expect 12-24 year old targeted stations to be in the majority. Every meaningful chance the Clear Channel SVPPís (Gene Romano, Jack Evans, Bill Richards, Alan Sledge, Michael Martin and I) get to introduce a youth oriented station into a market, we do. These formats (English and Hispanic) are vibrant, full of energy and life. Plus they are extremely profitable over the long haul. It amazes me that the radio industry is still a prisoner of the ďitís gotta be 25-54Ē mentality. How insane is it that with increased life expectancies, a 45 year old at the peak of his or her earning life only has nine more years of value to advertisers, or that we miss the financial impact a 15 year old has on a household. Wait a minute, what am I saying? Our current quarter hour ratings system made sense in 1932, and itís still the standard. Itís the age of emerging technology and paper, pen and pencil (sometimes crayon) is the high tech tool used to track our success. Jesus Christ! Maybe that 25-54 thing is right after all.

What are the most compelling aspects of terrestrial radio today?
#1---Content, content, content, content and content: there are thousands of personalities and programmers who live to entertain station fans. There are politicians, community leaders, callers, charitable organizations, and advertisers with products and services whose lives depend on positive interaction with our listeners.

#2---Choice, choice, choice, choice and choice: there are TENS of thousands of unique titles being played at hundreds of different radio stations across the country. But if you donít want variety and you love favorites, there are hundreds of stations that play the most loved songs over and over. Sure it is impossible to make everyone happy, every minute of every day, but have you hit the seek button on your radio in the last thirty years? There are more choices than I need. The days of four or five stations with twenty shares are long gone. Between AM and FM you can get over 40 or 50 stations in almost every market and with HD coming that number is going to expand. 

#3---How great our products make our listeners feel! People have been singing along to radio stations for decades. Nothing evokes positive emotions from listeners like the music and personalities of their favorite stations.

#4---Can you hear me? Can you hear me now? Radio is the ultimate streaming application. I love the fact that virtually every person is born with all you need to use our medium: ears. Iíve witnessed people who live close enough to certain transmitters actually picking up the station programming on the fillings in their teeth or toasters. Note: if that is the case around your house, consider false teeth or moving!

#5---Radio is free! No credit card or membership fee required.

#6---Radio keeps you plugged into what is going on in your hometown. I laugh my ass off when I hear critics of our industry say radio is not local. Does anyone really think radio programmers are concerned about people who canít hear their station(s)? Thatís outrageous!

Youíre head of imaging for terrestrial radio, whatís its new campaign slogan?
First of all one campaign would not work for all terrestrial radio consumers. You would need one for each station. American radio stations meet many diverse needs. I would, however, target a campaign directly at the people whoíve been malicious and erroneously critical of our industry. The people who want to hold our industry down by deliberately spreading lies, falsehoods, deception and deceit. My slogan for these scumbags, and only these, would be this. Even with your head up your ass, you can still hear the radio!!

How much will HD radio re-image the medium?
Clear Channel is bullish on HD. The new opportunities to entertain and inform listeners will be amazing. Our HD product labs already have some awesome products ready to roll out.

The strategic advantages of the HD Radio Alliance are obvious, but what are the biggest challenges the Alliance faces both with the auto manufacturers and consumers?
The biggest challenge will be matching the current ease of use, understanding, and penetration of terrestrial radio.

Is it a difficult slight of hand task trying to maintain revenue across properties, while promoting a new form of HD digital radio theoretically attempting to compete with more commercial-free vehicles?
Expansion creates new markets and those new markets and opportunities typically bring new money. Some people, who refuse to embrace the future, may find themselves in a declining revenue situation. Our plans are to lead innovation while simultaneously generating quality product on our current signals. We feel this plan will allow us to grow listeners and revenues in multiple pools.

How does radio protect its core revenue-generating asset, given the commercial free virtues of HD and the Less Is More approach?
LESS IS MORE is one investment in our current platform. It provides a superior environment for our listeners and our advertisers. But itís not the only thing we need to do. We need to continue to improve performance at every level. Our programmers and managers are awesome and they have the best resources in the country to help them accomplish this big job.  

How do you rate the performance of LIM over the past year?
Great! Everyone knows LIM was a top headline beginning in January of 2005. What everyone didnít know was weíd already implemented the first part of LIM (the internal programming portion) before the fall of 2004. This allowed us to get a running start on 2005 ratings. When fall books came out, the positive results began to show. The initial and on-going product changes coupled with reduced inventory are very noticeable. It is great to have fans that love your stations, notice when you do things they like: improve the product and reduce the clutter.

What have been the growing pains and what are the biggest rewards of the initiative?
Growing pains are associated with any significant change and change is hard work. But the old saying, ďNO PAIN----NO GAINĒ is so true. The rewards of LIM are many: the renewed focus on product improvement at every level, giving our clients more ways to effectively get their message to our listeners, and in the process renewing or establishing relationships as we told the powerful story of Less is More. Itís been a few years since I made a significant amount of sales calls, but our senior programming team broke out our shiny shoes and joined our sales teams on the streets. It was a wonderful experience and something weíll continue to do.

As an original Jacor employee, when you look back over the years when Clear Channel was in the process of acquiring several radio groups and blending cultures and consolidating simultaneously, what lessons did you learn from the process?
#1. The need for change is the only thing that doesnít change.

#2. You have to get used to getting wet. In the ďold daysĒ, when it would rain we would stop working and wait for the sun to come back out. Now itís always raining somewhere, so we have to find ways to work while itís raining. Grab your galoshes.

#3. Before consolidation, a common mindset of many broadcasters was the other station(s) in town were the enemy. Our competitors were evil. They were ugly. They were idiots, morons and losers. They smelled bad. Their mother dressed them funny! When the truth of the matter was some of the most gifted people in the business were our competitors. It wasnít until the rules changed we actually realized there are tons of unbelievably talented broadcasters in our business. Iím truly blessed. Iíve met some fantastic people, and made a whole new batch of friends. Now I canít wait to meet new people and learn from them.

#4. None of us is as smart as all of us.

#5. I should have started taking the free soaps, pens, and coffee from hotels a long time ago. By now I would have saved up enough for a big score on eBay.

In what areas did the company become stronger as a result of consolidation, and which areas may have suffered a bit?
We are better equipped to deal with fast moving shifts of consumer tastes and technology. On the downside, the radio industry, especially Clear Channel got a lot of bad PR early on. Did we do everything right? Hell no! I personally made a lot of mistakes, and I am sure everyone in the trenches will say the same thing. But you know what the funny part of it all was. The complaining had an unexpected effect. The heat generated by the constant public relations friction began to fuse a group of people into a team with a common goal. To make it work by taking Clear and radio to the next level. Today, there are a large group of broadcasters who are excited by the opportunities that lie ahead and we have high expectations. I hope you are one of them!

What will be the effect on terrestrial radio as high profile talent (like Howard, O&A, Bubba) migrates to Satellite?
It seems like radio has more federal rules than satellite has subscribers...ĒSIRIUS-lyĒ. Itís a fact; weíve lost a handful of high profile personalities to a medium with fewer federal regulations.  However, we have hundreds of big name LOCAL and national personalities on the air every day. Plus, new stars are coming to Clear Channel every day: Donald Trump, Jessie Jackson, Steve Harvey, Ty Pennington are just a few recent examples. Sure Howard is a well-known brand, but donít forget he built that brand on terrestrial radio. Plus, if you listened to or watched Howardís farewell at his press conference carefully, you heard someone who absolutely knew he was leaving the mainstream and moving to the margins. And it was a sad day for him, personally, and for radio. But times and attitudes change and we, as a medium, need to adapt. Maybe someday Howard will return to mainstream radio--maybe not. Either way, radio will be OK as long as we continue to change with the times.

What positives can be derived from the reality of Satellite radio?
Satellite radio and other mediums have put the spotlight back on radio; weíre experiencing a renaissance in interest. This can be a great time for radio as long as we step up and meet the challenges tomorrow brings.

What is the vision path for Clear Channel going forward? 
Donít stop thinking about tomorrow. Donít stop, itíll soon be here. Clear Channel made a ďMacĒ daddy decision in 2005. Something you rarely see in our industry, we aimed for long-term gains anticipating short-term pains. We made decisions today we think will put our company and the radio industry in a better place tomorrow. Less Is More allowed us to reduce clutter, add tactical marketing, and strategic research dollars. Additionally, Clear Channel spent millions of dollars investing in our on-line efforts in every market and HD digital radio in top markets. In the upcoming months you will see hundreds of millions of dollars in airtime used to promote on-line and HD to our listeners.

What are the critical issues that must be addressed in 2006?
Itís an incredibly exciting time and to maximize our success we need to focus on the gap between ďwhat isĒ and ďwhat will beĒ. How do we get there? We start by asking these questions:
How do we get from where we are now to where we want to be?
What parts of our current process and systems are valuable and should remain?
When are we getting the results we want, what are we doing to get them?
What needs to be changed or improved for better results?
What impact will the changes have on our listeners, advertisers, shareholders, and co-workers?
And above all we need to be honest with ourselves, create open and active lines of communication, and continue to embrace and facilitate change.  


FMQB NOW

Marissa Lanchak
APD/MD
WFLY/Albany

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