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Radio's NEW Responsive Challenge - Lon Helton, Country Mastermind
Episode 1737th November 2022 • Brandwidth On Demand • David Martin & Kipper McGee
00:00:00 00:20:22

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In times of uncertainty and change, who better to ask that a bona fide Radio Hall of Famer?

Lon Helton our guest is perhaps best known to listeners nationwide as the longtime host of one of Radio’s most popular radio shows Country Countdown USA with LON HELTON. This true Nashville Insider is well-known by all the Stars who keep him on speed dial!

In his spare time, Lon is also the Publisher of Country Aircheck, and is also Editor of the Mediabase Country Chart.

Lon’s trophy case is packed to the rafters with awards from every radio organization that matters, and just recently, he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame!

Key Takeaways you won't want to miss:

(03:25) Lon shares the one thing the industry as a whole is doing pretty well in our evolving mediascape, and shares what could (or SHOULD) be done better.

(05:12) From his position, Lon sees a lot of people making career advancements, on-air, in programming – or both! With budgets and openings shrinking, not growing, he notes some commonalities between those who are making moves and those who aren’t?

(07:06) With the COUNTRY FORMAT experiencing fragmentation into Hot Country, Classic Country, Young Country, and others, Lon shares where he sees the format heading next.

(09:43) So Lon reveals the first things he’d look at if he were taking over a Country radio station today, and what needed to happen to make it an even bigger inner?

Transcripts

Lon:

If you can't be live and local, what can you be?

Lon:

And what you can be is responsive to Every listener's need.

VO:

Welcome to Brandwidth On Demand, Your Guide to Rebooting Radio.

Lon:

I wish we were a little bit more responsive.

Lon:

To music because the poster trial for all this is the Walker Hayes song, Fancy Like

Lon:

Country Radio did not play that song till after it was a commercial for Applebee's.

Lon:

And you know, it takes a long time to go from a hit song to a commercial.

Lon:

And so for radio to just get on that so late is not being

Lon:

responsive to that audience

Lon:

Brandwidth On Demand rebooting radio with a different take on all radio can be.

Lon:

Now your guides through the media Morphosis.

Lon:

David Martin and author of the book, Brand Width Media Branding Coach Kipper McGee.

Dave:

This time our guest is perhaps best known to listeners nationwide as host

Dave:

of one of radio's most popular shows, Country Countdown USA with Lon Hill.

Dave:

He's hosted too many nationally broadcast country series and specials to count.

Dave:

Actually, he's a true Nashville insider.

Dave:

He's well known by.

Dave:

All the stars keep him on speed dial...

Dave:

as a matter of fact, In his spare time, Lon is also the publisher of Country Air

Dave:

Check in Industry Trade Magazine, and he's the editor of Media Based Country's Chart,

Dave:

which he uses in his nationwide show.

Dave:

Lawn's Awards shelf is packed to the Rafters Awards from every major radio

Dave:

organization that really ,matters.

Dave:

and this year will finally be included.

Dave:

He deserves it in the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Dave:

Brandwidth On Demand is proud to welcome the one and only Lon Helton.

Lon:

Hey Lon.

Lon:

Hey.

Lon:

Hey guys.

Lon:

Thanks very much.

Lon:

Very sweet, and,.

Lon:

That National Radio Hall of Fame thing is, um, is very special.

Lon:

For any of us it should or burn out a microphone.

Lon:

It's the, uh, epitome

Kipper:

As are you.

Kipper:

So at this point, after all of those successes, one, if you really

Kipper:

hadda pick, if we nailed you down...

Kipper:

at your deepest roots, do you consider yourself more of a radio

Kipper:

guy or more of a country guy?

Lon:

Um, radio person for sure.

Lon:

I mean, growing up at South side of Chicago, uh, listening

Lon:

to WLS WCFL the legendary WGN.

Lon:

Growing up Chicago, I, I think, is the best radio city in America.

Lon:

It always has been, have great personalities and great radio

Lon:

stations, but it might be.

Lon:

3, 4, 5.

Lon:

Chicago is 20 deep in everything.

Lon:

Some of the best people ever.

Lon:

And radio came through Chicago and listening to those radio stations,

Lon:

especially in the early years, um, made me kind of just love the whole

Lon:

challenge of programming the chess match.

Lon:

Beating the station across the street.

Lon:

And then those guys I grew up with, the Clark Webers, Joel

Lon:

Sebastian's, and later on mm-hmm.

Lon:

. Yeah.

Lon:

And John Landecker.

Lon:

They made radio very special and they made being on the air real special.

Lon:

Now they did find a course having done some pop radio early on.

Lon:

There's nothing like country radio.

Lon:

The relationship between country radio.

Lon:

And country artists.

Lon:

And the country fans, there's nothing like it in any format anywhere.

Lon:

So to me, you put those two things together and, and nothing beats it.

Dave:

You know,, I gotta agree with Lon.

Dave:

You know, looking at radio right now and all of its evolving, distribution

Dave:

options, what's the one thing you think the industry as a whole is

Dave:

doing pretty well and what could it be or should it be doing better?

Lon:

Wow.

Lon:

Um, far bit from me.

Lon:

There are a lot smarter people trying to figure this out.

Lon:

Trying to understand where people are, how they use media of any kind.

Lon:

You know, you would think with more choices it would be easier, but

Lon:

obviously with more choices it's really a lot harder trying to figure

Lon:

out where people are at any one time and, and how younger people use the

Lon:

different mediums versus older people.

Lon:

And, and in some ways we're, we're kind of where TV was years ago.

Lon:

You know, TV has gone from television.

Lon:

To being about video, you have no idea if what you're watching is

Lon:

coming from a tower on the outside of town or from somebody's basement.

Lon:

In Wayne's World, there's so many platforms all you know, and all you

Lon:

care about is you are getting the video that you want when you want it, where

Lon:

you want it, and radio is getting to that place now in the last few years

Lon:

with streaming and other things.

Lon:

Being available, uh, not only on, uh, from towers on the US of the town,

Lon:

but satellite radio and screaming.

Lon:

So we're just now getting the point of trying to understand how to use

Lon:

our various medium, uh, various platforms to, to get to people,

Lon:

to bring them the audio content.

Lon:

And we should be best positioned.

Lon:

Radio should be best positioned to bring great audio content to people wherever

Lon:

they are, cuz that is what we do.

Lon:

We create audio content.

Lon:

Maybe we don't create radio.

Lon:

We create audio content like you guys are doing here.

Lon:

Absolutely.

Kipper:

So Lon, from your position, you see a lot of people making

Kipper:

career moves every single day.

Kipper:

That could be on air, it could be programming, sometimes both.

Kipper:

So, especially now that budgets are shrinking and openings are decreasing,

Kipper:

what are some of the things you see in common between those who

Kipper:

are really making it and those that are kind of also ran or fall out?

Lon:

A, as you guys know, people in radio today are wearing more hats than ever.

Lon:

I was struck, um, in my early days at r and r we would get

Lon:

pictures in from radio stations and invariably there's a concert event.

Lon:

There'd be 20 people from the radio station, all the air staff in the

Lon:

promotions department and everybody else.

Lon:

. And now when we get pictures from radio stations, there might be

Lon:

three people in them or four people.

Lon:

Mm-hmm.

Lon:

. Mm-hmm.

Lon:

, a number of jobs loss is just unbelievable.

Lon:

So to pick up all those hats, like always, the more things you can do and the

Lon:

more things you can do well, the better prepared you are, the more employable.

Lon:

You will become.

Lon:

And today, I suppose if you're on the air and programming, it really

Lon:

means understanding and taking advantage of the social media, the

Lon:

Facebook, the Instagrams, the TikTok, the YouTubes and the Twitters and

Lon:

everything in between that things I probably don't even know about.

Lon:

But you have to know all of that stuff to prepare yourself for jobs to date.

Lon:

Cuz the person that can do the most is, is gonna have more success

Lon:

at getting and, and keeping a.

Lon:

Because you're wearing hats that five people you used to hold, I'm

Lon:

not even sure what the heck program is used to do when they only had one

Lon:

radio station, a program must have gone hour lunches and played golf.

Lon:

The rest of the day is all I can figure out.

Lon:

Cause now they're doing what, 3, 4, 5, and, and on the air and,

Kipper:

and not always just

Lon:

in one market.

Lon:

Yeah, for sure.

Lon:

Well,

Dave:

Lon, you are really the expert on country radio and we wanna ask you.

Dave:

You've seen all the fragmentation.

Dave:

Hot country, classic country, remember young country

Dave:

Where do you see the format

Lon:

heading next?

Lon:

Well, the first thing is, you know, it, it really hasn't fragmented.

Lon:

There have been different names and maybe targeted a little bit different

Lon:

demos, but it's still, it always has been at 25, 54 male female format.

Lon:

You know, you talk about classic country, most of the places right now where

Lon:

classic country is doing well are markets.

Lon:

One operator owns two country stations, uh, whether it be Austin

Lon:

or Kansas City, um, Nashville, Houston, Dallas, Greenville, South

Lon:

Carolina, just to name a few.

Lon:

Uh, they've got a mainstream country station and a classic

Lon:

country station as well.

Lon:

So really, I've always thought countries shouldn't and maybe even

Lon:

can't fragment because why fragment a.

Lon:

I mean, the fact that matter is we are country is a niche to a great degree.

Lon:

The cums, we'll average six or seven radio stations a month at least.

Lon:

We did pre pandemic.

Lon:

That cumed over a million and that puts the top Cuming Country station, I

Lon:

think ranks number 50 or 51 in America.

Lon:

So we did, um, you know, the fewer people to listen a very long time and

Lon:

country fans are known for their fierce loyalty to their country stations.

Lon:

So I think country is always kind of an ebb and flow, and I, and I

Lon:

don't think anybody knows Wire can explain it, but sometimes the music

Lon:

gets real hot and captures America.

Lon:

And you see country stations number one in places like Detroit

Lon:

or Rochester, New York, or, Mm.

Lon:

Various places or Phoenix.

Lon:

And then other times, uh, you know, we're, we're on on the downside.

Lon:

So it's, it really is so dependent on, on the music and what we really felt.

Lon:

In the pandemic, I mentioned before, the closeness of um,

Lon:

country radio country fans.

Lon:

Country artists, right?

Lon:

Mm-hmm.

Lon:

, there were no concerts for those two years and there was nobody coming through

Lon:

those markets and those artists were done.

Lon:

Country radio, you really saw country radio ratings take a hit.

Lon:

They're more intertwined, I think, than perhaps any other format.

Lon:

Concert experie.

Lon:

And at Radio Station who brings the artist and has 'em on the air and

Lon:

gives away concert tickets and meet and greets, that kind of thing.

Lon:

Um, it was really crucial for Country Radio to have those concerts.

Lon:

And, and now that they're coming back in the last eight months,

Lon:

you've really seen the, the ratings kind of pick up once again.

Lon:

Good point.

Dave:

Absolutely.

Kipper:

So putting your publisher hat aside, And putting the radio cowboy hat

Kipper:

back on, like you've done so many times in so many places with so many listeners.

Kipper:

If you were taking over a country radio station today, what are some

Kipper:

of the first things you'd wanna look at to see how they're doing and

Kipper:

what really needs to happen to make it an even better radio station?

Lon:

Wow.

Lon:

You know, I, I think for most of us, live and local was always the mantra.

Lon:

You had to be live and local to win, and I think that Genie is out of the

Lon:

bottle to probably never come back.

Lon:

I, I think what I try to convince the, the people inside of the station is to be.

Lon:

Responsive.

Lon:

Maybe the word responsive replaces life and local Cause.

Lon:

Live and local is all about responding to your audience, whether it be being

Lon:

on the air and talking about the same grocery stores or the same schools, or

Lon:

the same football games they went to.

Lon:

So you gotta figure out how to make.

Lon:

If people are voice tracked or coming in from outside the market,

Lon:

how do you make them responsive to the things going on in your market?

Lon:

And the other thing is in terms of responsive too, you know, I hate

Lon:

that all of radio country perhaps in particular, has given up a mantle,

Lon:

uh, music discovery and, and many radio stations now don't even think

Lon:

they're taking artists for music.

Lon:

First to second base or second to third, they just see us bringing them third

Lon:

to home, that they get there, that they start their momentum on, um, Pandora or

Lon:

Spotify or other, other social media.

Lon:

And then, then we kind of take it, that last leg.

Lon:

I wish we were a little bit more.

Lon:

Responsive to music and, and it's so crucial, especially on the young end of,

Lon:

of, of listeners because the poster child for all this is the Walker Hayes song.

Lon:

Fancy, like last year.

Lon:

Mm-hmm.

Lon:

, Yeah.

Dave:

Yep.

Dave:

Monster is,

Lon:

Yeah.

Lon:

And Radio, Country Radio did not play that song till after it

Lon:

was a commercial for Applebee's.

Lon:

And you know, it takes a long time to go from a hit song to a commercial.

Lon:

And so for radio to just get on that.

Lon:

So late is not being responsive to that audience.

Lon:

And if you go on the air and say, Here's a brand new one by Walker Hayes, and

Lon:

the young end of your demos have been listening to it on Pandora or Spotify.

Lon:

Or attack or whatever for a year.

Lon:

They're gonna go, Man, are you old?

Lon:

You think this is a new one?

Lon:

I'm already tired of this one.

Lon:

So, you know, being understanding, I think what I would do is try to watch

Lon:

more what music is breaking out of those, those streaming services, and really

Lon:

trying to understand when you saw a hit coming out of it to get on it early.

Lon:

And, and if you can't be exactly a leader, at least kind of look like you're the.

Lon:

And trying to get that back a little bit.

Lon:

And personality.

Lon:

I think, uh, again, being responsive to the people who live in that community,

Lon:

you know, live and local is what has brought radio through hard times for

Lon:

what, a hundred years in our lifetimes.

Lon:

Radio has been pronounced dead at least eight times.

Lon:

And what's saved was always, if it wasn't live and local, it was being respons.

Lon:

To the listeners and somehow in every aspect of what a radio

Lon:

station does to me, you gotta get back to that being responsive.

Lon:

So if I can follow up on, on that music discovery thing, it seems that now all

Lon:

formats are having fewer people kind of make decisions for a lot more stations.

Lon:

Do you think that gets in the way?

Lon:

Trying Discovery, like having a Chicago hit, having a Seattle

Lon:

hit, having a New England hit and then they come into the center?

Lon:

Or do you think it's not really, It's more of a technological thing these days?

Lon:

Well, you guys know better than I do.

Lon:

There used to be times when a radio station in a market

Lon:

somewhere or two would, um, would start playing a record and break.

Lon:

Nationally it would become a huge hit nationally cuz they saw their listeners

Lon:

and, and I know some of the things they're trying to do today with algorithms

Lon:

picking music and that kinda stuff.

Lon:

They are trying to do some regional things with that.

Lon:

But a country station of Dallas is not like a country station in Chicago or LA.

Dave:

Amen.

Lon:

And, and also, Again, with country, Country artists tour so much as we

Lon:

talked earlier, that when that artist goes through, you ought to really be all

Lon:

over that artist or you know, so many stations do listener appreciation shows,

Lon:

or eight man jams and that kind of stuff.

Lon:

Mm-hmm.

Lon:

, Well me that if I'm gonna have an eight man jam in two months with three new

Lon:

acts, I should be telling my listeners.

Lon:

Who's coming getting them familiar with the music.

Lon:

To me, it's just that connection.

Lon:

And, and you know, the, that's something that consolidation has done

Lon:

to radio too, is there's not much radio noise in a marketplace anymore.

Lon:

When two radio stations were competing head to head, Automatically,

Lon:

there was a lot of noise, right?

Lon:

Pulls tv, billboards, there's all kinds of stuff.

Lon:

And there, there was, this radio had a presence.

Lon:

And I don't know that radio has a presence anymore inside of a marketplace.

Lon:

You know what I mean?

Lon:

Just that, just that market noise about.

Lon:

Wow.

Lon:

Here's this personality here.

Lon:

Here.

Lon:

They're at this place, they're at this place.

Lon:

They're, they're doing whatever.

Lon:

So I'd love to just see that that kind of come back, make radio

Lon:

more important in people's lives.

Lon:

Again, by being, by being responsive.

Lon:

And music is part of that that makes a difference.

Lon:

That people in your, your marketplace,

Kipper:

And that's something that Spotify or Pandora can't.

Kipper:

Well, exactly right.

Kipper:

And as you guys know better than I do, from your days of programming

Kipper:

your eight radio stations, that's always the key, isn't it?

Kipper:

Do what the other, other medium can't.

Dave:

Yeah, exactly.

Dave:

I mean, it, it occurs to me if you're gonna have a music station,

Dave:

you need to be into music.

Kipper:

well said.

Lon:

Well, we all grew up and they were where the people on

Lon:

the radio were your friends.

Lon:

And if your friends says, Hey, there's this new artist, a new song,

Lon:

or I saw this artist in Nashville, I, I want you to listen to this.

Lon:

You will pay more attention to the things your friends says to you, and

Lon:

you'll take their advice a little bit.

Lon:

Say, Okay, I'll, I'll turn that up.

Lon:

I'll listen to that in back to again, being responsive

Dave:

Lon.

Dave:

I, I have to compliment you on that.

Dave:

That's, You've nailed it with that one word.

Dave:

Responsive.

Lon:

Well, that's what we grew up.

Lon:

In radio doing all of us for our listeners.

Lon:

Mm-hmm.

Lon:

Uhhuh.

Dave:

We're proud to have the King of Country with us this time.

Dave:

Lon Helton hey, somebody you'd like to hear from.

Dave:

We'd love to hear your suggestions.

Dave:

Email us at show brand with ondemand.com and

Kipper:

now you can stay in touch on social.

Kipper:

Just follow Bandwidth Plus brand with p L US on Facebook, Instagram, or

Dave:

LinkedIn.

Dave:

Coming up Lawn shares some opportunities that many, including

Dave:

us may find hiding in plain sight.

Dave:

Hi,

Spot:

I'm Jeff McCarthy, Vice President of Programming for Duke

Spot:

Right's, Midwest Communications.

Spot:

I'm

Lon:

Tony Lareno from Throwback Nation Radio.

Lon:

Hi, this is Dave

Spot:

Tyler from Music Master, with even

Bill & Morgan:

more raving fans.

Bill & Morgan:

Hey, I'm Bailey, program director for K O S P and.

Bill & Morgan:

Midwest Family broadcasting in Springfield, Missouri.

Bill & Morgan:

Hi, my name's jonathan Shaer.

Bill & Morgan:

I'm the program director at the Legend 6:50 AM Ws Sam, ready

Bill & Morgan:

to join these raving fans.

Bill & Morgan:

I'm so thankful for Music Master and the team for helping us grow

Bill & Morgan:

our station into what it is today.

Bill & Morgan:

Never stop learning.

Bill & Morgan:

Musicmasters educational webinars have helped us become excellent.

Bill & Morgan:

Music schedulers.

Bill & Morgan:

Visit music master.com today.

Bill & Morgan:

I cannot thank the Music Master Team.

Bill & Morgan:

Enough!

VO:

Opportunities hidden employees.

VO:

Sites brand with on demand.

Dave:

We're with one of the best and brightest lawn Hiltons, say mm-hmm.

Dave:

Lawn.

Dave:

Thinking about the entire radio industry, what's one opportunity that station

Dave:

people can find hiding in plain sight?

Lon:

Well, I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to think that I have that answer.

Lon:

Certainly.

Lon:

Um, there are a lot of smart people out there in radio and you know, from my

Lon:

perch since 1983 working with radio and records and now country art check, what

Lon:

you really have is that 30,000 foot view.

Lon:

Cuz you talk to so many people every week and you're really hearing their ideas.

Lon:

Radio, I think overall is just still trying to figure out where

Lon:

they fit in people's lives.

Lon:

But I, I hope we can get back the younger audience listening to radio again.

Lon:

And I think that's gonna be the, the challenge is figuring out how

Lon:

to get, um, young people to have radio as part of their lives.

Lon:

It was such a critical part of all of our lives growing up.

Lon:

Not just the the music discovery part, but certainly the companionship.

Lon:

How can we get back to that?

Lon:

I've used the word a bunch and it dawned on me when I was first

Lon:

thinking about some of the things you guys would probably ask me.

Lon:

If you can't be live and local, what can you be and what you can?

Lon:

Is responsive to every need, to every listener's need.

Lon:

Find out, you know, nobody, well, I won't say nobody, but radio

Lon:

does a real lot of research.

Lon:

We understand a listener and we need to understand them better,

Lon:

where they are, what they're doing, how they consume us, and what.

Lon:

We can do to really touch them in their everyday lives with the things

Lon:

that they need, The things they, well, you know, what's the list?

Lon:

What can't they get from streaming services?

Lon:

What can't they get from all these other places and whatever they can.

Lon:

Again, whatever's old was new again, what can we super.

Lon:

Them with, and, and that's what we have to do.

Lon:

The

Dave:

Star of Country Radio, Lon Hilton.

Dave:

Well, you'll find all kinds of stuff, including his newsletter,

Dave:

links to his show, and more just scrolled out on your phone.

Kipper:

As always, we wanna thank our executive producer Cindy Huber, for

Kipper:

getting us all straight and putting this together and associate producer, Hannah B.

Kipper:

For booking...

Kipper:

And coming up next.

Bill & Morgan:

Hi, my name is Bill ryan, and I am Morgan Wright.

Bill & Morgan:

Together we are the co-host of the Q Morning Show on W Q A L Q 1 0 4 in

Bill & Morgan:

Cleveland, and coming up on our episode of Bandwidth on Demand, we're gonna

Bill & Morgan:

discuss starting a new show with a new co-host that you've never met before.

Kipper:

That does happen.

Kipper:

They'll join us next time.

Dave:

That's a rap kiper.

Dave:

The more you listen, the more you can.

Dave:

The next one Minute Martinizing is about listening.

Dave:

Find it at brand of on demand.com.

Dave:

I'm Dave Martin.

Dave:

And I'm Kipper McGee.

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