Justin chase: Power Player
By Justin Chase
Originally published at All Access
In these technologically advanced times, Beasley Media Group realizes that radio can’t afford to be reactive anymore; to succeed you need to be proactive – and not just when it comes to utilizing social media. EVP/Programming Justin Chase and the programming team at its Philadelphia cluster have jumped on the growing use of smart speakers to stage a promotional event where Alexa served as a “guest DJ” on BEN-FM. It’s not the only smart speaker “skill” Beasley will be utilizing at its stations in the coming days. Here, Chase offers insight into their plans and the potential of using smart speakers as another radio platform.
When were you first aware of Amazon Echo and its potential impact on radio?
We got excited about these smart speakers late last year and kicked our strategy into gear earlier this year. We at Beasley believe the impact on radio could be profound and we want to be at the forefront. The end goal is having more of our listeners in the habit of using radio at home.
How did you come up with the idea of Echo being a guest DJ?
The credit goes to the creative team at BEN-FM in Philly, led by PD Chuck Damico. We have an incredibly talented team at our Philadelphia stations (WMMR, WMGK, WPEN and, of course, WBEN) who are always creating innovative concepts.
Chuck told us about the “Simon Says” feature on Alexa, where you literally say, “Simon says (whatever you want)” and it repeats what you said and then does it. Conceptually, that’s how we came up with the idea; we followed that up by having some of our production people gather audio for the all of the elements in order to make it work. We’ve since successfully used the “Simon says” feature a couple of times for other projects.
Do you feel the guest DJ promotion was successful … and just how do you judge the success of something like this?
Absolutely! While it’s currently difficult to judge success from the Alexa platform (as we are just now seeing early data metrics from Amazon), it was hugely successful at getting BEN-FM listeners talking about the station and making them aware that BEN has a new skill. This was just a one-day “kickoff” event and the promotion/marketing of the skill continues, so we anticipate that the data will ultimately reveal the success of this skill for that station.
Do you see the station doing it again – and having it done at more Beasley stations?
Yes, we have a few other stations that liked the idea and are considering doing something similar.
How will smart speakers’ growing popularity alter radio in terms of ratings?
As you know, it is difficult to find quality radios for the home at stores like Best Buy. So, we see smart speakers as the new home radio and we want our listeners to think of our stations (and radio in general) when they’re using it. These smart speakers can certainly positively impact our ratings in both diary and PPM methodologies. If our listeners are using smart speakers to consume our stations at home, they are more likely to remember to fill out a diary (since the most common time and place for filling out a diary is in the evening at home). And in PPM, a station that is a 100% simulcast (TLR) on their stream can sometimes see a significant lift in the ratings if meters are exposed. As time goes on, I believe the impact will be exponential.
Ballpark, approximately how many smart speaker users does there need to be before its impact reaches critical mass?
That’s a tough question to answer, but a study by Gartner predicts 75% of U.S. households will have smart speakers by 2020. I’d say that’s critical mass!
Discuss your relationship with Sonic Ai, and what you hope to accomplish.
Jacobs Media and Amplifi Media (which is owned by Steve Goldstein) joined together to create Sonic Ai, which is assisting us on creating skills for every single Beasley Media Group station. Beasley and the former Greater Media has had a long and deep relationship with Jacobs Media in numerous areas, such as consulting on our apps, and we trusted them to help us develop a successful strategy to tackle this project.
How do you see its impact on your stations’ branding – then and now?
We are just beginning the process of promoting our skills on our stations, in lots of different ways, including on-air, on our digital assets, etc. Like BEN-FM in Philly, some of our stations are getting creative, too. But that’s the easy part; the hard part is going to be educating our listeners on how to find us on that platform. It all comes down to that. We’re attempting to create invocation names that closely align to the way we describe our stations on-air, such as “102.7 Coyote in Las Vegas.” Common station names such as “Lite,” “Mix” and ‘Rock” – because a lot of stations use them — may cause the smart speaker to call up the wrong station. It’s going to be very important to ID our stations distinctively.
Will it even alter the way you program your stations … and if so, how?
Not in any major way, but some stations have created (or are in the process of creating) features around the idea of the smart speaker. For example, our afternoon talent on WMMR, “Jaxon,” has re-named a longtime 5p feature from “Jaxon’s iPod” to “Jaxon’s Echo.” He uses the Alexa voice to say funny things, creating a hilarious segment for his show. Smart speakers have also made us re-visit and improve our podcast strategy. On most of our skills, we want listeners to be exposed to the other content we do, be it local news minutes or popular morning show bits. Going back to our beta market in Philadelphia, WMMR’s Preston & Steve morning show has a very popular bit called The Bizarre Files, which feature the very latest bizarre news fake bits. Every day, people who come to WMMR can hear three options – the entire stream, the latest podcast or Preston & Steve’s Bizarre Files. Those choices offer listeners a better overall experience with the station.
Overall, you’ve been a programmer for many years. Describe the challenges it takes to succeed these days with all the technology and streaming going on.
The fundamentals are still the fundamentals. Be relevant, relatable and unique. Provide a product that can’t be recreated anywhere else. That’s the name of the game, and it’s always been that way on the radio. There’s just a lot more distribution points for listeners to engage your content – and different things for us to focus on, but it always goes back to being relevant, relatable and unique.
Are the keys to programming success different now than then and if so, how?
The keys to programming are the same as they’ve always been. The key is to pay attention, be prepared to inject your station into the conversation … and always be a part of the important trends, instead of ignoring them.
Is the current environment conducive to long-term planning and strategy, or do you have to be more on point and “in the now” to stay on top of the constant changes?
They go hand in hand. The most successful people and organizations that I know (no matter the business/industry) take the time to think strategically and create a long-term plan. The more data and research that you can provide the people creating these plans, the better.
Personally, how do you see your future in radio? Do you look ahead long-term … can you afford to?
I tell people all the time, I’m so blessed to work for the company that I work for. My bosses (Caroline, Bruce and Brian Beasley) are among the highest quality people you could ever work for. The rest of the team here at the corporate office are amazing and I learn something new from them every day. The PDs and Market Managers that I get to work with daily are some of the best in the industry. And now I have a team of corporate programmers, starting with our VP/Programming, Buzz Knight, who I have an enormous respect for, as well as our new format captains who are making a big difference in the quality of our programming – John Candelaria (Urban), DJ Stout (Country), Cadillac Jack (Top 40/AC), and Bill Weston (Rock). I’m so lucky and proud to be associated with all of these people. My dream continues to be to learn, work and grow for the rest of my career. This is a company of the future, and I hope to be here for as long as I can.