Peak CEO Todd Lawley on makin’ it local


Peak CEO Todd Lawley does a phenomenal job on the day to day operations with its stations. We asked him a few questions about the KMJ-FM Fresno talker and website re-vamp, just unveiled yesterday (see related story). It’s very significant right now that radio stations get back to their local roots. It seems KMJ-AM, FM and is doing just that, with 18 of every 24 hours being California-based programming—and the FM and AM talkers only simulcasting in the mornings.

We asked:
How can other stations adopt this sort of mentality to help keep them in business during these trying times?
“I think it all boils down to branding. And the biggest issue that radio groups have right now is I don’t think they really grasp the power of a big radio brand. And it’s amazing, you can do almost anything to try and destroy them—by not promoting them, not giving the attention, not doing a great job of putting them online, not doing a great job of creating good content—but they still survive. And what we’ve realized it we’ve got this huge brand in the Central Valley. We want to make sure that the listeners can receive our content by any means possible. We’ve got this huge brand and it’s doing as 9.3 share. The next biggest station in the market I think is around a 5.2. Most people look at that and say we’re doing a fantastic job. And there was a time we only had a 5 share, when we took it over from CBS. But I look at it as there are 90% of the people that we’re still not reaching with this huge brand. So I believe this is the evolution of what should be happening—not only with news-talks but CHR, Country, etc. It’s a little easier to do with a news-talk. But we own news, talk, weather, sports, traffic, agriculture and politics—seven huge segments of content. It’s almost impossible to expand on those with just one AM station.”

Is this something that Peak is going to be espousing as an overall philosophy for the entire group? An evolution for the company?
“It might be. We’ve got to really take a close look at this and if it does what we think it’s going to do, we know in any given market there are usually about 17 shares of spoken word. We only have 9 right now. We had one of our competitors come after us and said they were going to take us down in a book or two. They’re sitting there with a .4 share. So we really think there’s a lot of headroom there and we’re really excited to realize it.

…What drives me crazy is I hate to be painted with the same brush as the public companies (a lot of radio, media companies in general) because it’s almost getting to the point with radio industry that people need to be reminded that there are still smaller operators that are actually operators and not bankers. Guys that are actually going out and doing new and innovative things and really trying to buck the trend. You can be in a recession, but being innovative and creative, it’s free. It’s a lot of work. Fig [President/Operations Bill Figenshu] and I literally brainstorm probably an hour every day about the industry brands, trending, everything. And out of that stuff comes these ideas. Because we’re not a big corporate entity, we can put them in place and try them out. I will tell you—more times than not, we’re successful in the things we’re doing.”

I have to mention, we just did a big interview with former Q-94 Richmond, VA GM Phil Goldman (3/20/09 RBR #55), where he talked about how once Clear Channel bought the station, he was almost paralyzed to do local promotions on the fly because of the bureaucracy it took to get the permission and funding from San Antonio. But he did make the point that big groups can still give local control back to the GMs.
“They’ve got to trust their local staffs. To me, that’s why you hire them, right? Let them do their job. And if you don’t trust them enough to do their jobs, then you know what? You shouldn’t have hired them in the first place.”

That’s exactly what Goldman had said later. We are on a mission to keep bringing these kinds of stories to light. Peak seems to have personalities that are stars (KeKe Luv at KISS-FM in Boise is one good example) and your stations’ staff and personalities get their hands dirty with their local audiences—with big events, etc. That’s what radio used to be and still can.
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with radio, you should be touching the community all of the time, you’re the voice of the community. But you can’t do that when you’re voice-tracked everywhere and you’ve got one jock doing five stations—it’s impossible.”

RBR-TVBR note: Read:  What should broadcasters be doing differently from the past to deal with the challenges of 2009? You’ll notice what Lawley stated and how he applied it to KMJ.