Don't worry, Philly radio fans. Caroline Beasley is not going to kick your favorite radio personalities to the curb.
Some pundits and listeners anguished last week that Beasley Broadcasting Group's announced purchase of four Philly stations from Greater Media could lead to more personnel cutbacks and maybe format changes at WMMR (93.3FM), WMGK (102.9 FM), WBEN (95.7 FM) and WPEN (97.5FM).
But the driver of the $240 million Greater Media Inc. group acquisition (21 stations in all) says "these are iconic Philadelphia brands with wonderful talent and listeners with whom they have an emotional bond and connection. Why would we get rid of a Preston and Steve or a John DeBella?" (citing the morning show hosts on WMMR and WMGK, respectively). "That's what we're paying for. Why tear that apart?"
So forget suggestions that either personality-driven station might go the way of WBEN – computer automated with pre-recorded voice drop-ins.
Combining operations of Beasley's two current Philly properties - WTEL (610 AM) and WWDB (860 AM) – with the new four could lead to other "synergies in the market," she said. "I don't know now. I haven't hadn't a chance to go in and look at that."
How about the notion of simulcasting WTEL and WPEN sports content, an idea posed last week by local radio industry watcher and deal critic Jerry Del Colliano. "The former is mostly national sports, supplied by ESPN," Beasley responded, "the latter ("The Fanatic") is Philly sports-centric, locally staffed. So we think they compliment each other."
Clearly, these are challenging times for broadcasters, noted the 53-year-old Beasley, longtime chief financial officer of the Naples, Florida-based, publically traded radio group and since March its Interim CEO as her 84-year-old dad and company founder George G. Beasley recovers from a kidney transplant.
"It's a much more competitive business than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Our listeners have many more options, though more than 90 percent of the population still tunes in to radio" (at least once) "every week." Beasley cited. "We know we have to adopt and change to the needs of our listeners and advertisers. Now we're over the air, on line and on mobile apps. We're not just selling spots, we want to be marketing consultants to our advertisers, to help them make their business grow."
Accumulating more stations in a market – the FCC allows a broadcast group to own a maximum "cluster" of eight – is a big part of the strategy, helping her consultants work smarter and sell more efficiently, she said. With the Greater Media purchase, Beasley will be up to 73 stations, with especially full clusters here, in Tampa and Charlotte.
With a cluster, a Beasley sales rep can structure a big picture campaign - a bundled buy of day parts and demographics from several radio properties to maximize the "reach" to targeted listeners. And by integrating a new tech for mobile streaming commercial placement called "geo-targeting," the ad salesman can build an even stronger case, she believes, for betting on radio.
"Radio broadcasting has always been about one-to-many, an efficient way of getting the word out. With the app, we can also communicate one-to-one, customizing the advertising to your neighborhood, where you are listening right now. In this day and age, getting into the geo- targeting space is something we have to do."
In the next breath, though, Caroline Beasley acknowledged the dangers of overselling - that the commercial loads weighing down radio stations and sending listeners skidaddling has "gotten out of hand." Beasley said her group program director "would never allow 12 spots in a stop set," though we did count 11-in-a-row in a BEN-FM break Sunday morning.
When this writer did weekend DJ shifts on WMMR in its free-form, prog rock youth, three commercials was the maximum allowed in a stop, nine the most in an hour.