by Fred Deane
In September of 2018 John Reynolds was promoted to Operations Manager at Beasley’s seven station Charlotte cluster. Part of his oversight includes day-to-day programming of his beloved WNKS/KISS95-1, a station he’s been piloting for two decades now. Wild horses couldn’t tear him away from those duties.
In that twenty-year period, Reynolds has witnessed some drastic changes in the city of Charlotte, most notably its rising in metro rank from market 36 to market 23. Ironically through that same period, the radio landscape has managed to stay relatively stable with some power players that have maintained strongholds on some key formats leading to a competitive field of strong brands in the market.
Reynolds has endless passion and energy for his profession, and never runs out of fuel. His enthusiasm for his job was augmented even further in the past four years under the Beasley family leadership and inspiring company culture that the principals have always operated under and have instilled in the scores of new employees who have joined the fold when Beasley Media Group acquired Greater Media, among other acquisitions, this decade.
In September of 2018 you were promoted to Ops Manager of the 7-station Charlotte cluster. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as you assumed more cluster responsibility?
I’m working with a larger staff so initially it was about spending the time to get to know who they are, what they’re all about, what drives them, and most of all how I can supplement their needs, which is an ongoing process. There’s been an increase in the amount of different strategical discussions with the various formats and working on a variety of projects and trying to help each format and programmer attain goals they have set in front of themselves. Reworking time management has become a constant priority while working on concurrent agendas on a daily and weekly basis.
How has dealing with a wide variety of formats expanded your horizons as a programming executive and manager?
The fundamentals of programming are consistent across all formats so I’ve been drawing from many of those concepts as I look at all of our different formats in the cluster. I’m learning a lot more about the nuances of each format, because while the programming architecture is pretty consistent across the board, it’s taking that stationality of each format and inserting it in the archetypal model. It’s about customizing (big) presentation and targeted uniqueness that comes with each format. That’s when the differentiation is factored into the programming equation. You start customizing it in its own individual way and maximize the model for each specific format to reach audience optimization for each formant.
As a programmer, it genuinely opens your mind to different ideas and perspectives. When you’re doing only one or two formats, you’re focused on one or two types of audiences and types of music. However, with a wide variety of formats you start to overlap ideas and cross-collateralize initiatives as they apply to different audiences in different formats. I’ve learned to look at programming from very different perspectives these days as like-kind ideas are adapted to fit different format needs.
Which formats have you found to be the most challenging?
The formats that are most challenging are the ones that have more competitive breakouts. For example, Hip-Hop encompasses a wide spectrum within the format itself, as does Top 40. When you look at Top 40 and the variations of that format, you also have HAC, AC, Rhythmic and Rhythmic Pop, which all serve as breakouts of the Pop format. Whereas Country will compete with Top 40 and HAC, and existing Country stations inside a heavier Country market, but the breakouts aren’t as wide, so there’s less of an attack than there would be on those bigger and wider formats.
You’ve been with Beasley ownership for about four years now, what are the primary qualities of the Beasley culture that you may not have experienced in the past?
It all starts with (CEO) Caroline Beasley and (President/co-COO) Bruce Beasley. They truly have set a very inviting agenda here for passionate programmers. They’ve developed an environment of the local radio model being an integral part of our entire radio business model. They’ve brought in experienced and seasoned people and have built a team of professionals who totally buy into this philosophy and allow for a very productive atmosphere of collaboration among us all. It’s all about radio content across all formats and all platforms, and having a company that is ultra-focused on that is fantastic because you move and make decisions so much faster when everyone is on the same page.
We’re s a pure radio company in every sense of the word. Sometimes in radio we always say that, but with Beasley you live it every day. The culture promotes the concept of local market decision making. We’re empowered to do so and develop our products accordingly to be successful in our given markets. That’s what excites me the most because I know this is not the case at some other companies. Passion is what got me into radio in the first place, and developing winning local strategies fuels that energy to engage listeners in creative and unique ways.
Who among the Beasley programming execs to you interact with the most, and how does decision making flow up and down the chain of command?
Another major feature of our culture that is very appealing to me is the relative ease of communication. I can call Bruce Beasley, Justin Chase, Cadillac Jack, Buzz Knight, David Corey, or Travis Daily (among others), with questions or for collaborative efforts, and they are readily available for productive solutions.
Typically, a specific idea or an area I need support in, will lead me to the person I need to collaborate with. We have such a great and seasoned set of programmers and the ability to call any one of them at any given time makes our environment even more amazing. It’s encouraged within the company to reach out, and it’s through those collaborative efforts that decisions are made. So, up, down and across the chain of command, the input and communication is very productive. It’s an inspiring environment and the accessibility and attention you get at all levels is remarkable. I love it!
Next month you’ll be celebrating your 20th anniversary at WNKS. How has each of the Charlotte market and radio landscape changed over that period of time?
I can start with market size. When I came here in 1999, Charlotte was ranked #36 and today we’re #23. So, I was able to go to a bigger market without ever having to move! I’ve witnessed the growth here. It’s consistently been one of the fastest growing cities in the country in the past two decades, and it’s been very exciting to witness the changes that accompany that kind of accelerated growth.
As for the radio landscape, there have been very few changes over the twenty-year period. The market’s had only two or three major changes during that time. It’s been very strong with radio stability and the strong brands that have endured and grown along the way. It’s led to a fiercely competitive radio arena. You’re always in a battle with a strong legacy brand of radio, and that keeps you on your toes constantly. Plus, we went from a diary to a PPM market which also changed a lot of tactics and techniques we put into practice.
Can you address the changes in our industry as well over the past decade or so?
We’ve all seen the radio industry go through quite a bit of changes in that same period. Aside from ownership issues and changes, when it comes to programming, we’ve seen how technology has changed the way people consume everything including their entertainment. The advent and continuous growth of streaming has really had a wild card effect on radio. We are (and have been) in a technological revolution that if we don’t recognize and act on, we’re going to lag behind and lose. Certainly, keeping up with the big tech changes have altered much of what we do, how we do it, and how we compete.
Has the widespread proliferation of streaming has had any effect on the music cycle, relative to the relationship between radio and its audience?
The cycles have always been there and probably always will be, and right now I believe we’re in the doldrums cycle, but what hasn’t existed until now through several previous cycles is the accessibility of music through direct streaming. I feel it definitely has an effect on the way consumers make their preference choices today, and it keeps growing constantly through so many different sources. It’s the on-demand factor of finding and getting anything they want within minutes. It’s been interesting to see how streaming effects music trends especially at the contemporary music stations in general. It’s something we need to be aware of, continue to monitor, and stay on top of.
Streaming has disrupted the music cycle to a degree and may be one of the reasons we’ve been trapped in the doldrums. It used to be that radio led the listeners to the music, but now with the various streaming sources the listeners have taken somewhat of a lead in this area and in some cases are outpacing radio. Streaming has captivated the audience to such a degree that radio has to be very sensitive to the demands and needs of listeners at any given time relative to music preferences in each of the formats. The fragility of the radio/listener relationship has increased and it’s our commitment to superior content, compelling personalities and community involvement that will help us win that battle.
Is radio doing enough to find and nurture the next gen of broadcast talent?
There are some opportunities around us that are very productive and important in cultivating our next gen broadcasters. There’s the Keller Radio Institute which was developed by Dan Vallie. He runs it through Appalachian State University in North Carolina, and now I believe it’s expanded to multiple universities across the country. The significance of the program is that there are qualifications the students have to meet to legitimize their interest and commitment to the broadcast field and be accepted into this two-week program. It’s a very specific non-curriculum program that operates after school, so the students really have to want to learn about this and want to pursue further interests in the field.
The classes get filled up every year in all the markets they do it in, so you know the interest and commitment are there…they’re out there! It’s up to us to participate and follow up with these programs and the people behind the programs. We should be networking with the officials of these programs as we’re searching for our future broadcasters and content providers. The students could be the creative energy that help us compete in the vast digital and tech-laden world we operate in. Content and personality are extremely important to the future of our business. We need to give these up and comers the chance to develop their talents and teach us some new tricks as well.
What advice can you impart to young, aspiring prospects about a future career in our business?
You have to have the passion to pursue the field. Attend a class like what the Keller Institute offers, and aggressively pursue your local radio stations for any kind of entry job. Digital fields are such vital components of our operations in our industry now and that’s a great avenue of entry. After all, these younger millennials grew up with a heavy dose of technology and are right in pace with all the innovations every step of the way. They could come in our buildings and teach us about all things digital to the extent that they can make themselves a very marketable asset to any radio station. It’s instinctive to them, they intuitively know it and have no inhibitions in any of the digital areas.
They need to connect and make sure they reach out and be persistent about this path. We on the other hand need to find the raw talent and apply their skills to our industry’s needs in a collaborative way to get find solutions. Who knows, we may be very surprised.