Nikki Nite, VP of Programming & Operations, Entercom/Austin
By Fred Deane
One thing you can count on in this industry is that if you establish yourself as a competitively equipped multi-brand manager for a company, chances are your star will continue to be on the rise within that framework.
In July of 2015, Entercom/Austin presented an opportunity that would seem to fit Nikki Nite like a glove. After all, Nikki had already served one tour of duty at the cluster as PD of Hot AC KAMX before she ventured further west to Entercom/Sacramento, she was fully acquainted with the nuances of the market, and she had a personal motivation to get back to Austin.
Entercom and Nikki found harmony once again and Nite was named VP of Programming & Operations for the Austin cluster. Same city, same company, more stations! This time around Nikki would absorb oversight of the four-brand cluster including: KAMX, AC KKMJ, Talk KJCE and Urban AC KKMJ-H3.
Her previous multi-station experience informed her new position well as Nikki oversaw The End and STAR in Sacramento, and with a stop at CBS in between Entercom assignments, she worked in Dallas at KVIL and Movin’107.5.
From Myrtle Beach to WFBC/Greensville to Dallas to Austin to Sacramento, and then back to Austin…the journey just gets better and better for Nikki Nite.
Given this is your second tour of duty for Entercom in Austin, what’s the big attraction that prompted the move back?
When the Austin opening presented itself, it was a great opportunity for me to continue to do what I love and grow with a company I respect. Plus, I was going to work closely with Stephanie Callihan, our Entercom Austin GM. When I met her, I knew that we would accomplish a lot together and have fun doing it. This also was an opportunity for my husband to be able to run his building business from Austin rather than remotely. Plus, we both felt the desire to be closer to our families on the east coast.
You’re in the biggest role of your career with the company. What were the major challenges you encountered when you first arrived at the Austin cluster in July of 2015?
When I arrived, the organization had already gone through a significant amount of change at the management level. New, much higher goals were being set, and in order to achieve those goals, we had to do things in different ways. The biggest challenge was helping my team navigate through all those changes, while I was also adapting to change. But, eighteen months later, it is rewarding to see how far we’ve come and the progress we’ve made toward those goals. I’m so proud of what our team has accomplished. For example, KKMJ-FM Majic 95.5 just recently set two Austin PPM ratings records. It takes everyone from promotions to sales to the front desk, to make that happen.
How did your experience in Sacramento (overseeing two stations) help prepare you for the multiple station cluster you currently oversee?
My Sacramento experience and all the experiences I’ve had leading up to this job have prepared me for this position. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many incredible GMs, sales managers, consultants, talents and programmers in many different markets, formats and situations. Specifically in Sacramento, John Geary treated the programmers as business owners. We had Program Director and Station Manager titles, and that meant you programmed and ran your business. I also learned a lot from watching Jim Fox transition from PD and Station Manager for two stations to Operations Manager for the Sacramento cluster. Plus, it was also a great experience to program two stations so demographically close to one another, which is the same situation we have here in Austin with KAMX-FM Mix 94.7 and KKMJ-FM Majic 95.5.
How have you grown as a programmer in the time spent in Austin with this new set of responsibilities?
I’m always growing as a programmer every day. I never stop learning. I’ve grown as a business person and a leader. I’ve learned to make decisions more quickly, be even more comfortable with risk, communicate big-picture goals in clearer ways and delegate more effectively. I’ve done those things throughout my career, but when you oversee four stations and manage managers at the pace radio moves today, it’s very important to keep improving in all of those areas.
How deeply involved do you get with the imaging of the brands and do you have much internal assistance in this area?
Imaging brands starts with defining a brand’s position. What makes it unique? What does it stand for? What’s its reason to be? Then, you communicate that consistently in your messaging. I recently hired a creative services director for Entercom/Austin, Matt Wheeler. He is a great writer and producer. I can explain the big picture about what we’re trying to communicate and he’ll bring it to life in fantastic ways. Sometimes he writes on his own or sometimes the two of us collaborate on imaging, and it’s also not unusual that we’ll grab a few people and brainstorm copy. He and I both enjoy the creative energy that collaboration brings over working solo.
Given the proclivity for the industry in general to be more event driven, what are the cluster’s main events during the course of the year for brand extension?
Local is at the core of everything we do. Being part of the fabric of our community is very important to us, and we consider creating events to be a part of that. It’s fun to throw a party that your city can enjoy, and it’s rewarding to create events that help the community in which you live. Entercom/Austin has a variety of events each year. A couple to highlight are KAMX’s Merry Mix Show, which is a huge party with a superstar lineup, and Prom Rack which this year served over 6,000 girls in our community by giving them dresses, shoes and accessories for prom through generous donations from our audiences.
Each March your city hosts one of the industry’s largest and most wide-ranging conferences in SXSW. How involved does Entercom get with its outlets during this high-profile event?
We put a local twist on this big, national event. Seven years ago, we created West of the Fest as an easy way for locals to be part of the music discovery experience of the festival without the confusion of wristbands, badges, parking and literally hundreds of artists to choose from. The event is targeted to casual music fans who want to be part of what’s happening in town. Entercom Austin also works with SXSW to promote its event and give our listeners, who do want that full experience, the opportunity to win their way there.
Earlier this year, you represented Entercom on a panel in NYC during Advertising Week. What did you gain from that experience?
It was rewarding to get to speak about the power of radio to the advertising community. I think it’s great when advertisers get to interface with programmers and talent. We’re another voice that can share the news about all the ways that radio works for advertisers, the effectiveness of radio as an advertising medium and how deeply listeners connect with talent.
You’ve been with Entercom for a total of 15 years and have managed quite a career inside the company. What is it about the Entercom culture that has you hooked?
First, Entercom is the most locally invested media company focused on entertaining, informing and servicing our audiences. We care about our communities, and that is why local is at the core of everything we do. Secondly, programmers have the autonomy to be creative and connect in an authentic way with their community. And, most importantly, after fifty years the company has not forgotten what it cares about, and that is its listeners. We create curated content to better serve our audiences. With the recent news about the merger with CBS Radio, I’m excited to see what the next chapter for Entercom brings.
[eQB Content By Fred Deane]