Dial Global Radio Networks
John Paul had built himself an impressive career as PD at Country stations such as WYRL/Buffalo and KUPL/Portland, but when his latter gig was cut short during an ownership change, he used it as an opportunity to broaden his horizon. Which he found at Dial Global, where he became Sr.
Dir./Country Programming. There he oversaw a plethora of stations and he got his first taste of the rapidly developing technology behind satellite-delivered formats. Here Paul describes what he has learned and how Dial Global programming dovetails with the current Country music scene.
What made you decide to work for Dial Global?
In August of 2009, I was laid off from KUPL/Portland when Alpha Broadcasting bought the station from CBS. I came to Dial Global a year ago to be the Sr. Dir./Country Programming. I was overseeing the six Country formats based out of the Denver; now I'm the VP/Programming.
What intrigued me about Dial Global was its people, its focus on talent and its commitment to producing a great product. I had gotten a little burned out on local radio and was looking for something still in radio ... just not the day-to-day grind of a major-market station. This job is certainly a bigger scale than what I'd been involved with before. I worked local radio for over 20 years; now I'm overseeing multiple formats with hundreds of affiliates and millions of listeners.
Was there a lot to learn in network programming?
There's a big learning curve with all the technology and tools we have available. I had no idea some of this technology even existed. We are able to produce great formats from multiple locations across the country and not even miss a beat.
Now it seems you're concentrating your efforts on multiple formats, not just Country...
In December, I was promoted to VP/Programming and I now oversee all the 24/7 formats that are based out of Denver. I also serve as the day-to-day PD for the Hot Country, which is one of six different Country formats we have. I'm also playing a big role in talent development for the company.
What's your view of Country radio in terms of quantity and quality of product to choose from?
There's always ebbs and flows. In, the last several months, the music has been really good. Acts like The Band Perry are breaking through; there's a lot of great new stuff out there. Of course, Lady A has been big for us, so the superstars have been putting out great music, too. It's been fun watching Zac Brown break through, as are Miranda Lambert, Billy Currington and Blake Shelton, who's close to popping into an "A" act.
I've also noticed a wide variety of Country music, from the poppier Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood to the bluegrassy Band Perry and hardcore straight-ahead Country stuff from Randy Houser, Jamey Johnson and Craig Campbell. If stations pay attention, they can be adding a wide variety of styles into their current sound.
Are you satisfied that you're getting a proportionate amount of quality music from all of those categories of Country?
It has been a while since had we had a problem finding different types of Country music. Recently, we haven't had an issue in finding a good balance of music to add each week.
Do you use research differently at Dial Global than you did when at KUPL?
That's probably been one of biggest differences. In Buffalo and Portland, everything was hyper-local; we primarily looked at local research, local Big Champagne numbers and record sales. Now all we look at is national data and we do online music testing with formats, which is great. We have close to 600 different Country affiliates; we reach millions of people each week, so we have thousands of people taking online tests to give us a big snapshot of what's going on in the entire country.
Is burn more or less a concern at Dial Global as it was on your previous stations?
I never saw Country songs burn real fast when I was in Buffalo and Portland -- and I don't see much burn from this vantage point, either. I remember Tim McGraw's "Live Like Dying" get 1,200 spins at WYRK, yet it was one of our least-burned records. So I learned not to pay a whole lot of attention to burn in Country.
I would presume that the Country acts whose hits were mainstream pop hits might be more impacted by burn.
I haven't seen it yet, but we are aware of the possibility. We absolutely watch Taylor Swift, Lady A and Carrie, not only because of their exposure on other formats, but on TV, too.
How many spins on Dial Global do you need to gauge whether the record is going to be a hit or not?
I still say the magic number is 100. It can be a tough situation for us, because we have so many stations. Hot Country alone is 80-90 affiliates - and every one has different scenarios. Some might have a Country competitor; which would warm up songs faster, while others may be the only game in town, which would take longer to familiarize the audience with the songs. So it can be tough to do from a national perspective. We still look at 100 as a number where you should start seeing songs stick.
Is what makes for a successful personality on Dial Global any different than one on a local station?
It is different. First off, our company is doing a great job in investing in personalities. We know that it's between the records that matters most. My boss, Beau Phillips, once told me that jukeboxes are great for diners, but not for radio. Our goal has been to invest in talent and give them the tools they need to be more than just a "title and artist" jock.
The difference here with a 24/7 format is that the things our personalities talk about have to be more generic and more national in scope We can't get too local, although we do have a new product we just bought from The Waitt Radio Networks called Dial Global Local. It enables us to put out a 24/7 format that can be customized for each affiliate in real-time. An affiliate can send us something; we can cut a track for it that only runs on that station.
DG Local is currently being used for Classic Rock, Classic Hits, AC, Hot AC and Country stations that are designed to emphasize more local content. It's really amazing how it works; as long as the affiliates feed jocks local info; they'll be able to get something back within five to 10 minutes. We hired over 30 new full-time jocks over the last couple of weeks to be part of Dial Global Local.
That's a huge reason why I was excited to take this job -- seeing the investment Dial Global puts into talent. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, a lot of great talent is now available. We're just trying to find the best ones.
Are any of Dial Global's air personalities "stars" on the magnitude of Gerry House or a Rick Dees?
That's a tough one. Some of our jocks have a higher profile than others, they've been here a long time and it could also be the nature of their show. It could also be the nature of show and format to not stand out as much as bigger personalities -- but that doesn't lessen their importance to us. A quality jock is as important as quality music; they way they sell the music gives people a reason to listen to radio beyond the songs.
What impact has PPM had on the way your air personalities operate?
That's hard to say, because our PPM stations are primarily in a lot of shadow markets to PPM markets, so we do get our stations encoded. But the majority of our formats are on stations in diary markets. Nevertheless, one of the things I focused on last year was the idea that just because a majority of our stations are in diary markets, it doesn't mean we can't learn from the PPM.
We try to teach our jocks that as long as they talk about compelling, relatable things, in organized breaks and in an entertaining way, it doesn't matter if they're in a PPM market or not. Each jock should get right to the point and have something worthwhile to say, so you don't waste a break.
Does Dial Global have a strong web presence?
It's a different situation here, because a lot of affiliates have their own websites, so we haven't developed a web strategy. I would love to see our company get more involved with the websites for our affiliates.
Where does Dial Global stand on the prospects of HD?
That, too, is a local level decision. I have mixed feelings on HD. A non-radio friend of mine summed it up when he asked, "Why do I need an HD radio when FM radio sounds great enough as it is?" There's a lot of truth to that. If radio were to invest in some really compelling content and talent for HD -- and give listeners some good reasons to listen to it -- it might be different and HD may have more traction than it does today.
Describe Dial Global's relationship with the labels.
Hot Country reports to Mediabase, as do our AC and Hot AC formats, and they all have a great relationship with the labels. The labels know our stations hit millions of people every week - many in markets were people are still buying a lot of CDs. There's a Wal-Mart in every town. There have been VPs of labels who have told me that we're their secret weapon on the street date because we're also hitting markets they can't hit because there's no reporting station in that area.
It there more pressure from the labels in adding their records today?
It's more intense now. I don't know if that's because of the size of Dial Global's audience, or because airplay is getting harder to get at a local level. You ask a Country PD of any station, not just ours, and I bet you they'd say the intensity has increased. I don't remember a time when more Country labels were calling me. A lot of small indies now call us regularly, too.
Do the major labels use the size and roster to give their new acts a step up above the indies?
We look at every song the same regardless of the label it came from. One of the things we do here is we listen to lot of music. Every Friday at noon all of Country PDs meet in my office; we bring our lunch and just listen to music and watch videos on CMT. We probably listen to more new music than any other country station in the U.S. We look at it as part of our job as programmers.
What kind of goals to you set for Dial Global?
We definitely want to go up-market; that's why we're using the DG Local technology to make our product more local. We're slowly building that; there's still a lot of room to grow. We just hired over 30 new jocks and we're building a bunch of new studios to make room for them.
There's a lot of interest from owners and GMs, who check out what the technological changes have done for satellite-delivered formats. It's flawless if the local stations follow our directions and do it the right way; the listener can't tell where the programming is coming from - and we have affiliates who execute the programming flawlessly.
What kind of personal goals do you have?
I started radio part-time in the 8th grade in 1987 at KLOG-A in my home town of Longview, WA. I've been programming since 1995. My original goal was to program KUPL - and I got my chance. Due to an ownership change, it didn't last as long as I wanted, but looking back now, that was a blessing in disguise.
Being a VP/Programming has been another long-term goal. I see radio being around for a long time, but we can't survive by being a jukebox. We will continue to focus on creating compelling on-air content. There's no place I'd rather be doing that than here at Dial Global. It's a real exciting time and I've never been happier in my career.