by Fred Deane
Justin Chase is a prime example of how the Beasley Media Group rewards constantly driven and forward-thinking programmers. As an employee, you know you’ve achieved a certain amount of high-level trust and confidence when upper management allows you to help create your next key position for the company. So was the case with the Beasley top executive group and Chase, as the job of EVP of Programming was a collaborative effort among those principal parties.
Chase joined Beasley in 2009 as OM of the 5-station Las Vegas cluster where he held that position for the four-year period leading up to his current role. Prior to his Beasley arrival, he had served at CBS RADIO’s KMXB/Vegas from 2000-09, first as APD/MD, then as PD during the last six years of that term.
He became EVP in 2013 and relocated to Beasley’s base in Naples, Florida, where he oversees programming and content for the entire radio group.
You’re the first EVP of Programming the Beasley Media Group has ever had. How was the position conceived, and the responsibility agenda initially defined?
Yes, that’s correct; the company never had a head of programming before me. I had to work with the Beasley’s to essentially create the role from scratch, which was actually a lot of fun. I grew in the position quickly after identifying the core tasks at hand. This position has evolved so much over the past six years due to the ever-changing nature of the industry, but there’s still nothing I’d rather do.
Can you elaborate more on some of your core responsibilities, and how your role has evolved over the past six years?
I’ve always considered my role to be a resource for our local programmers and market managers, giving an outside strategic perspective from a 30,000 ft. level. My focus is on brand building and promoting all of the on-air and digital content we create to support those brands.
Initially, our corporate programming department simply consisted of me and a handful of really good consultants who supported my long-term vision for our company. As we’ve grown, we’ve strengthened the corporate programming department with some of the best programming minds in the industry like Buzz Knight (EVP Innovation & Strategy), John Candelaria (National Urban Brand Manager), David Corey (National Country Brand Manager), Cadillac Jack (National CHR/AC Brand Manager), Mike Thomas (National Spoken Word Brand Manager), and Bill Weston (National Rock Brand Manager). I’m very proud of this team and strongly believe it is the finest in the radio industry.
You’ve also mentioned to me that you have helped the company with many other “firsts.” Can you elaborate on some of these initiatives?
I have helped the company with a lot of firsts, initiatives that required the collaboration with other corporate executives and the local markets. I was a part of the teams that created our company’s first ever station-branded apps many years ago and helped us become the first major company to roll out custom Alexa skills for all of our stations. I’m also proud to be a part of the team that created our company’s National Cash Contests and our first Digital Content Team, which both provide valuable syndicated content for every Beasley station. Today, our company has a larger and more vibrant corporate team that aims to think bigger and continue to innovate our business.
You have spoken very highly of the Beasley company culture and how meaningful and productive it’s been for its employees. What can you share about the working environment at the company?
It all starts with Caroline, Bruce and Brian, of course. They have created and fostered an atmosphere that is very appealing for our employees at all levels. In my position, I’ve been fortunate enough to help support and contribute to their philosophy of management, which has always allowed our employees to operate creatively.
Part of our philosophy is to allow our local markets to have a lot of freedom and autonomy. We feel it works better that way. Whether it’s the PD or local manager, they have the power to decide what should be done in their markets. They are more passionate about their stations and clusters, and frankly, they’re more creative when it comes to their properties and what should be done to remain successful.
I love working for this company and hope to be working for these guys for the rest of my radio career. They’re great broadcasters, and great people.
In what significant ways have you seen the company grow and make investments in resources over the past decade or so?
One major area of growth has been in overall revenue. We’ve grown from the 17th largest radio broadcaster by revenue to the 4th largest today. Beasley continues to invest wisely in their people and resources. We don’t find ourselves restricted by debt overload issues, which tends to stunt a company’s progress at times.
Our c-level team has been excellent about managing the level of debt and being smart in the way we buy companies and investments – buying low, selling high, etc., that’s why we find ourselves in such a successful position today. I’d be remiss in failing to mention the brilliance of our founder, George Beasley, and the prudent investments he made over the years to build this company from the ground up, and has continued to put us in a position of growth.
Are there any specific examples of investments that were product oriented that ultimately resulted in revenue gains?
When I was overseeing our Las Vegas cluster prior to my current position, one of our properties in the cluster is the legendary News/Talker KDWN-AM. It’s a huge AM signal; one of the biggest in the state. We recently purchased a big translator, the most expensive translator we’ve ever purchased, which covers the entire metro of Las Vegas, and we’re now simulcasting that station on the FM dial. We know that will produce a sizable ROI in the long run.
I can give many examples of smart investments that Beasley has made over the years (acquisitions, vendors we’ve worked with, consultants who’ve helped us move the needle, etc.), but the most frequent and lucrative company investments we’ve made is in our talent (in all departments and levels of our company). It’s our people that are creating value for our company and our clients on a day-to-day basis. We strive to have the best corporate culture in the industry partly so we can continue to attract and retain the best of the best.
Can you further address your core programming responsibilities on an ongoing basis?
Overseeing programming content for the entire company is probably the large-scale view of the job. When you dig in a bit further, this includes managing the PD’s at the local level by supporting and helping them execute big initiatives, strategic planning and long-term goals.
One of the more enjoyable takeaways from the position is that I get to be involved with all programming aspects that I’ve always had a passion for at both the macro and micro levels. I’ve realized that programming fundamentals rarely change, but innovative approaches and alternative perspectives must be incorporated into programming decisions and solutions because they’re what separate our stations from other run-of-the-mill stations.
How involved are you in digital and tech initiatives?
As much as assisting with overall programming needs is a primary part of what I do, these days I am heavily involved with our digital strategy, whether it’s podcasting, e-sports, smart speakers, apps, or video. These digital initiatives require a lot collaboration between the various departments within the company such as programming, sales, technology and digital.
It’s a big effort of collaboration and coordination across all departments throughout the company. Any great company will tell you that they are successful due in part to its employees working together to accomplish the goals of the company. One of our major goals today is digital success and without the collaboration of our employees, we won’t accomplish that goal.
In these changing times of a vast array of digital competitors, who do you perceive as your primary competition today?
Our business is definitely rapidly changing, and our competitors today are not the same as they were five years ago. While we still see the stations across the street as our competitors, we’re also up against big-tech now, so we have to focus on more than just being great on-air broadcasters.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in the digital arena, especially with the streaming services who have invaded radio’s lane to a large degree with on-demand/preference entertainment?
It’s important for our personalities to be more competitive, sticky and relevant to millennials and the younger generations in general. It’s something that every industry, especially traditional ones, need to think about more forcefully than ever. We need to figure out ways to develop core strategies about engaging them more frequently and retaining their attention.
That’s our biggest challenge going forward and especially looking down the road into the future. We know their tendencies in consuming entertainment and the on-demand consumer lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to. We have to learn how to be more attractive and relevant to millennials.
What do you perceive as the obstacles to overcome in attracting millennials?
Millennials are all about authenticity. There’s a big distinction between the past and next generations of radio stations and on-air personalities. When you think about it, YouTube is this consumer generated content hub and users pull that entertainment into their lives at will.
Millennials, as a generation of consumers, know exactly what they want and exactly where they need to go to get it, so we’ve needed to figure out how to be something that millennials want and tell them where they can find it. What we’ve realized is that millennials are looking for real people that are humble, vulnerable and human, so that’s what we give them both on-air and on our digital platforms.
Are the personalities the difference makers then, is the talent and presentation as important or even more important than the primary (music, news, etc.) content at times?
Engaging, well-branded, on-air personalities are critical to radio’s future and have always been the centerpiece of our business. It’s one of things we have that digital competitors lack. We can be local and lead the charge for giving back to the community of our listeners.
Even with our amazing local talent, we are constantly trying to create new opportunities for the consumer to keep them engaged, which include increasing the quality and content of our on-demand content. There are a lot of different business models radio companies should be exploring, I know we certainly are.
What about partnerships with the music industry and the various initiatives that exist between radio groups and labels, and ultimately with the artists themselves?
This is an area that I’m very passionate about. I love music and we only hire programmers that love music and have a passion for the artists they play. We have developed strong relationships and partnerships with record labels, artists and management companies. We’re always looking for opportunities to partner with our label and artist partners.
Does the company engage in any “new artist” programs on-air where the artist gets mandated to all like-kind formats within the company?
We’d rather have the local stations support the music and artists that are suitable to their mix and markets. I’m not a fan of setting a universal playlist of songs or choosing a certain artist for all stations of the same format to get behind, without regard for what the local programmers think or accounting for the stations’ specific needs.
Again, we want to give our stations as much autonomy as we can, and that includes the power to set their own playlists. Very rarely is there a situation where we are, from the corporate level, dictating the playlist of any of our local market stations. That said, we love to do label and artist promotions and events when it makes sense. For example, when it’s an artist or song that all of our Country PD’s love and want to support, we’ve been known to put initiatives together that will benefit each individual Country station, customized on a per-station basis. When it makes sense for the company and conforms to our general philosophies of local emphasis, we go for it.
Who have been the most influential people throughout your career, and what takeaways did you have from these relationships?
I’ve been very lucky to learn from some great people in my career, setting good examples of what it means to be a professional. The first person to get me excited about a career in radio was Max Miller, my first PD in my hometown of Modesto, CA. Another person who made a great impact on my life was Tom Humm, the General Manager I worked for when I moved to Las Vegas. Tom took a big chance on me and gave me my first PD job. I learned so much from Tom, including the importance of building relationships and always following through with your commitments.
Finally, my current bosses Caroline Beasley, Bruce Beasley and Brian Beasley have also been incredibly influential on me professionally. They demand hard work and performance, but they do it with a great deal of grace and respect, managerial qualities which I’ve strived to emulate since working with them.