November 26, 2015

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Country State of Mind: Ed Salamon’s Plan For Maintaining Country Radio's Strength (02/19/07)

Ed Salamon is as much an expert on Country radio’s past has he is a believer in its future. After years working behind the mic and in programming on both the radio station and network levels, including co-founding United Stations Radio Network, in 2002 Ed was handed the reins to the Country Radio Broadcasters, an organization that for nearly 40 years has worked to educate, inspire, and unite the Country radio community. The group’s key annual function, the Country Radio Seminar, each year offers an agenda packed with informative sessions and performances from some of the industry’s brightest stars. This year is no different, and Salamon couldn’t be more proud of the work his group does.

“The Country Radio Broadcasters and the Country Radio Seminar have really made an impact on Country radio, and I’m glad to be a part of making that happen,” he says. “In 1969, when the organization first formed, there were only about 600 full-time Country radio stations. Today there are well over 2,000, and I’d like to think that CRB and CRS, through our sharing of knowledge and schooling of those in Country radio, has given them a real edge over their competitors in other formats.”

As his group gears up for CRS38, taking place in Nashville February 28-March 2, Salamon talked with Radio Ink about where he believes Country radio is headed, and why he believes the format is as vibrant as ever.

RADIO INK: What trends are you seeing for Country music and Country radio?
The Country format is robust and has been on an up trend in recent years. All of us in Country radio are quick to acknowledge the people who create the recordings that attract listeners to the format. A couple of years ago, the Country Radio Broadcasters created a specific award that I had the honor of presenting on behalf of radio for songs that reach the number one position on the national charts. The award is presented to the artists who recorded the songs, and also to the songwriter. We at CRB like to think that our annual Country Radio Seminar brings those in Country radio together to learn from each other. Our motto is growth through sharing.

RI: You mention that the format is on an up trend. Is that in terms of station count? Revenue?
Radio has had some revenue challenges in the past years, and Country has not been immune. However, the spring Arbitron book showed audience listener levels to Country radio are higher than they’ve been in the past several years. Our overall station count has likewise been increasing.

RI: To what do you attribute that?
It goes back to question one — the power of the music and the hard work of the broadcasters.

RI: Are artists like Carrie Underwood, who gained fame on TV, and non-Country artists like CRS keynote speaker Jon Bon Jovi bringing new fans to Country?
I’ve been involved in Country radio long enough to see artists from the Pop world periodically come into Country music and bring fans with them. Likewise, I’ve seen Country artists exposed on Pop radio stations develop new fans for Country radio. Country radio is blessed to have both of those things happening right now. Artists like Rascal Flatts have gotten great exposure on non-Country radio stations and have had fans follow them to Country radio. Likewise, the artists that you mentioned have brought fans to Country.

RI: In the case of Jon Bon Jovi, why did you ask a traditionally Rock artist to keynote your conference?
We invited Jon Bon Jovi to be our keynote speaker not as a Country artist, but for what he’s accomplished throughout his career. Country radio can learn from people in other fields, and Jon has had an extremely successful career as an artist, songwriter, and performer, and as a businessman with his Philadelphia Soul arena football franchise. The Country format has always had a very inclusive ethic with artists or radio folks who want to be a part of Country radio, and the Country Radio Seminar reflects that culture.

RI: Are up-and-coming artists bristling at singers like Carrie Underwood who find success through competitions and aren’t paying the same dues as others who follow a more traditional path?
Radio and the music industry are both businesses — they’re constantly in a state of change, which is what makes them so exciting to work in. Performers and radio talent alike are constantly finding new ways to get themselves noticed and accepted.

RI: What about on the station side?
I just don’t find any prejudice against these new artists. Radio programmers are driven to provide programming that they think is the most compelling for their listeners. The successful ones pay attention to what their audiences tell them, and Country audiences have been accepting a lot of new artists in recent years.

RI: Are there any emerging trends that you believe will influence Country music in the next few years?
The Country format is at its strongest when there are a variety of musical sounds on station playlists. One of the format’s strengths is that a wide spectrum of music is being accepted by audiences, and therefore being played by Country radio. It’s very hard to pick a specific trend; if there is anything that you can predict, it is that the music will continue to be unpredictable.

RI: Many stations focus more on current hits than older artists. Do you think listeners want to hear more Classic Country?
Country probably embraces its past and its present better than any format. My cover photo for this magazine was taken at the Grand Ole Opry, which provides a representation of this. The Opry has current performers like Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, and Tracy Lawrence, but also has artists like Porter Wagner, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Jimmy C. Newman on stage. Artists who achieved their popularity in the ’50s work side by side with artists who have achieved popularity in recent years. The talent has long careers in the format. And not only the musical talent; the radio talent also have long careers in the format.

RI: On the business side of Country radio, especially in smaller markets, how are stations faring financially? In markets with more than one Country station, are cross-town rivals battling for the same precious advertising dollars?
On a market-by-market basis, you’ll either find Country stations competing, or not enough Country stations. Right now we actually have a couple of major markets with no Country radio stations at all. But Country radio is a great business to be in. It’s extremely advertiser-friendly. Country radio gets results, and there’s nothing in terms of content that will bother advertisers or listeners. Country radio is also very family-friendly; it tends to have a loyal, responsive audience. The Miller Kaplan power ratio is a very favorable 1.26 for Country, making it one of the best formats for translating audience into revenue, so it’s not surprising that a lot of radio operators choose Country.

RI: Do you still find advertisers who believe their customers aren’t Country music listeners?
Very seldom do we find advertiser resistance to Country radio. Our advertisers mirror the general market very closely. You’ll certainly see Geico, McDonald’s, Verizon, Home Depot — all of the advertisers that are on radio overall are on Country radio as well.

RI: How do you think electronic measurement will affect Country radio?
The Portable People Meter will affect radio programming to a great degree, and I don’t think anybody knows exactly how yet. One of our CRS panels will focus on that. Arbitron is going to share some of the PPM results on Country listening, such as life cycles of Country songs. This chapter in radio programming is just being written.

RI: What are the hot issues that the industry is talking about right now?
In addition to the PPM, we are focusing on small-market radio. Today, radio in a small market is much different from radio in a large market. Folks who participate in the CRS from small markets are adamant that stations of their size be addressed. Another emphasis is sales. With radio overall becoming more and more accountable to its advertisers, CRS will offer a number of presentations that help Country radio stay at the forefront of serving its advertisers.

At the CRS, Country Radio Broadcasters is also presenting the first study of Hispanic Americans’ relationship with Country radio. That study, which we commissioned with Edison Media Research, explores the opportunity Country radio and the Country music industry have with Hispanics. The various Hispanic groups have become a very large and important demographic in the United States, and we’re at the forefront of addressing that as far as our format is concerned. Preliminary research shows an opportunity for the inclusion of Hispanic listeners in the Country format, and we’re going to figure out how to do that.

RI: What opportunities does HD Radio present for Country radio?
The first HD2 channel was a Country channel — WUSN HD2. Last year, a very robust panel on HD at the CRS addressed programming rather than technology. Even at that time, Country radio stations were starting to experiment with a number of approaches to programming Country on their HD2 signal. WKIS in Miami, for example, was programming an Outlaw format — music with an attitude — and other Country radio stations were trying Country Gold formats. This is very much in the formative stage, and it’s a great thing to monitor.

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