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Radio Disney: Music To Kids Ears
A Q&A with Radio Disney SVP/GM Jill Casagrande

FMQB recently spoke with radio programmers about the Disney brand effect on programming. Many agreed that the genre is a force and in some cases making an impact at Top 40 radio. With the recent success of “High School Musical” and “Hannah Montana,” one radio network has benefited most...Radio Disney. Most of us know first hand or someone’s kid who listens, so we decided to go direct to the source of one of the hottest brand named radio networks in the country and further discover the Disney brand. Jill Casagrande has worked on the programming side at the Disney Channel U.S. and their associated networks for more than ten years. She's also spent time working internationally on Disney Channel worldwide. But having the opportunity to run all aspects of the business, as opposed to focusing solely on the programming area is what Casagrande desired. She’s a self described big kid’s media junkie who loves music, and she currently serves as SVP/GM for Radio Disney.

How did the Disney Radio idea come about?
Radio Disney has been around for about ten years and it was really rooted in the fact that Disney has quite a legacy in music. Music has always been an integral part of the Disney brand. There was also recognition that kids today really like their own music, and no one in radio was really speaking specifically to kids. The company saw a real opportunity. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and since that time its clear that in fact it was a good idea with the explosion of kids’ music, whether it was in the days of Lizzie McGuire and Hilary Duff and some of the other acts who we’ve seen in my recent history, whether it’s the High School Musical kids or Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers, who are a new act we’re focused on. So it was just a natural outgrowth of the brand and we were proven correct.

Who is the specific target?
We program for kids six to fourteen, and I would say the sweet spot of that is that tween age group. When you get into older teens, they’re beginning to graduate out into some broader musical tastes, and younger kids are still in that “wiggles world.” We do have a Disney block specifically for pre-schoolers where you can hear Imagination Movers, The Wiggles and The Doodle Bops on Radio Disney for two hours a day. But our sweet spot really is that nine-to-twelve-year-old.     

The stations are mostly on AM. Where are your biggest pockets of success and how do you gauge that?
Frankly, anywhere we have stations we’ve been pretty darn successful -- New York, L.A., Chicago, Philadelphia, anywhere we have that opportunity. Where we are on FM, for example Indianapolis, we do enjoy some particular success, the FM band is probably a more music friendly band. But, because Radio Disney is such a unique service, we do find a tremendous amount of success in the AM brand because it really is a safe harbor for parents in cars with kids. Coming from the television business we knew that while we program for kids and we really have to be true and authentic to kids, we knew there were concerns that parents had about content for kids, certainly on the television side. But what was really surprising for me, at least in radio, is parents actually fear radio even more because inappropriate lyrics are all a button push away in the car and they’re real easy to get to, where on the TV you can block some channels. So parents feel passionately and strongly enthusiastic about Radio Disney because it’s a great place for their kids, and their kids are happy there, so it’s not a parental edict like “this is what you should be listening to.” The kids want to listen to it, and the parents feel safe because Radio Disney embodies all the brands of Walt Disney Company.

Tell us about the important rules and guidelines Radio Disney has regarding music content.
First of all, every song we put on the air has to be lyrically appropriate for kids, but also appealing to kids. So there’s a cut that’s appropriate and then there’s a cut that’s “and I like it.”  We also look really closely at the artists themselves. How do they portray themselves? Nowadays you can look online to see how they portray themselves in this new world we live in. But we try to make sure the artist as well as the music is appropriate for the audience. If there is a particular amount of scandal around an artist, then we tend to avoid it because once kids hear that music, and they like it, they want to buy the CD. Again, we have a high level of trust from parents and we can’t violate that trust, so we have to be careful about the artists we present. We look very carefully at everything they perform, and how they present themselves on stage.    

It’s not that often an artist will change its lyrical content, but they do for Radio Disney. Why do you think that is?
They recognize the value of the audience, and their buying power. It’s no secret that the #1 CD sold in the U.S. last year was the High School Musical soundtrack, and last week Hannah Montana: Meet Miley Cyrus was #1 on the charts. That music also sells, and kids do buy music, so they want to reach out to that audience and they recognize the importance of reaching them. At the same time, we don’t want to be the ones telling artists that you need to change for us. An artist has to make that decision as to whether this is an audience they want to go after. What we don’t do, and it’s a really tricky place for us, is do too much editing of lyrics because, if a kid is listening to a version of a song on Radio Disney and their friends are also singing the song but they’re singing the version they hear on KIIS-FM, you’ve kind of violated that kid’s trust because you’ve embarrassed them. We try not to go too far into the lyric editing. It’s a tricky area and one we constantly focus on with, “What is appropriate for kids?” We base our decisions on what parents tell us is appropriate. We do go out and talk to parents fairly frequently to gauge what that line is.

Hillary Duff is someone Radio Disney has helped develop into a multi-media star. Are there other artists that come to mind that the station has partnered with to help launch?
We’ve done a lot of work with Jonas Brothers, who have suddenly exploded onto the scene.  They are a group we’re very excited about. We saw them early on in their development, back when they would get on stage just to sing. We worked on developing them. In fact, we put them on our annual “Jingle Jam Tour” last year, which is our holiday tour. We were just ahead of the curve of their success, and now they're a tremendous hit for us and are enjoying a tremendous amount of success. We’ve seen some of the Aly & AJ success at Radio Disney. In fact, they were guest deejays last week, and their music is doing quite well on Radio Disney. Then there’s the occasional novelty act, because kids are fans of the novelties songs like “Crazy Frog.”

And Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) has really become Disney’s next mega-star.
She’s huge! Radio Disney has certainly played a tremendous role in her development, as well as the obvious success on Disney Channels. It was really multi-platform, which is the best of all worlds -- and the same goes for the High School Musical cast. But what we’ve really seen with Hannah Montana, it’s like a runaway train, it’s great! Hannah Montana is a dominant force on our charts and the kids love her.

Radio Disney is a national network, so how do you make sure its impact is felt locally?
Because we have forty-two radio stations, our stations are out there, literally every weekend, doing events. What we’re trying to do with Radio Disney is make sure that what we do on the network level, also comes alive on the local level. For example, High School Musical 2, where we are the local station or we are the radio platform essentially for High School Musical 2 because those are huge hits for us. We also have High School Musical 2 events throughout the U.S. We’ll be tying into, obviously the premiere of the movie, but we’ll do a lot of local events tied to High School Music 2 so that it really can come alive locally for kids and families.

Radio Disney obviously gets a lot of youth products as advertisers, but it’s expanded beyond that. Tell us about the channel’s advertising support.
We get people targeting what’s commonly known as the four-legged-consumer: moms and dads and kids -- because really it is co-listening, especially in the car, because our audience can’t drive, so somebody’s driving them! So we have a lot of advertisers who are trying to reach out to parents as well, but also reaching out to families and recognizing the tremendous influence kids have on purchasing decisions in the home. You read all the online research now about the influence of kids, not just with their own money, but the influence they have because they’re Internet savvy or they’re just vocal consumers. Kids play a role in every buying decision -- whether it’s what car to buy because, let’s face it, it’s important what car drops you off in front of school, to the clothing they want to wear, where they want to shop, what they want to eat. Kids have tremendous buying power so we’ve enjoyed tremendous success from advertisers on that front as well. We’re also enjoying advertising success with categories like health care and medical. People are recognizing the need to reach out to families and promote healthy living and so on, so we’ve really been pretty successful in those areas. Telecom is another category that has become very strong for us.    

How is the station utilizing technology nowadays?
The most natural outgrowth for us on technology is the opportunity to stream on the Internet. When kids are at home they can listen to us as well when they’re online, and in the areas where we don’t have stations. We are in forty-two cities, but there are some major markets where we’re not located, like Washington, D.C. for example, kids can listen to us on the Internet. That is a tremendous opportunity. Beyond that, things like texting, we’re waiting until there’s a little bit deeper penetration into the true kid demos of those devices. We’re just getting there. The phone is being held probably a little bit more by the teen and the older kid, so we’re constantly watching and working with research to figure out when kids get access to text messaging, because even when they have phones they don’t necessarily get permission to text until they’re a little bit older. We think there’s tremendous future opportunity for us in texting. We look at things like streaming on mobile phones and other devices, going into the car, going into the home, or going into a kid’s hand. We constantly look at them, but we do recognize the opportunity.   

What’s been the biggest change at radio Disney over the past ten years?
The biggest change is the explosion in Pop music. If you think about when Radio Disney came online, it was the days of Britney Spears, *NSNYC and Backstreet Boys. It was one wave, and then Pop kind of died off, but there’s been a tremendous explosion. The other piece that’s really interesting for Radio Disney is the explosion of television’s influence in driving music. So whether it’s Disney Channel artists or American Idol, TV has become incredibly influential in driving music and that’s something we constantly have to watch.  

Are there any exciting enhancements or promotions we should be on the lookout for?
This summer is an embarrassment of riches phase, where we’re tied into High School Musical 2 and the new Hannah Montana CD, with Jonas Brothers about to release a CD. We’re almost overwhelmed. I was just in a music meeting and we were looking at the charts, and just finding room for everybody, it’s a great problem. And because kids can hold onto music longer, Hannah Montana season one songs are still hits for us. It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge. What we’re really doing with all the properties is extending them beyond just the radio so it does come to life in local events, and there are contest opportunities as well. One of the most exciting things that’s about to happen is the Jonas Brothers are going to be guest deejays on Radio Disney (July 25). We do a lot of phone calls with kids on-air, and when kids can call in and talk to their favorite artist, it's so exciting. We had Miley on recently, and it was our biggest single call volume day in the history of Radio Disney.

When people think of Radio Disney, what would you ultimately like them to think of?
I want them to think of us as a network of music services that super-serves kids and their tastes, and that it is also age appropriate for kids.

** QB Content By Bob Burke **

Also check out eQB: The Disney Radio Effect (5/4/07) [more]


Nikki Nite,
VP of Prog. & Ops,

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