As part of Entercom‘s acquisition of CBS Radio, legendary spoken word stations in the nation’s biggest markets became siblings to an already formidable portfolio of AMs and FMs across the U.S.
But, the diamond in the rough in this deal just may be an online hub for audio streaming centered around Entercom’s radio stations — a platform that was arguably clunky under CBS Radio but today is one of the fastest-growing audio access apps on a smartphone in the U.S.
How did RADIO.COM (which Entercom prefers to capitalize) get rebuilt so fast, and with such swift success?
It’s thanks, in part, to an individual who began his career in fall 2003 as a producer for KCBS-2 and KCAL-9 in Los Angeles.
In October 2016, after 13 years in roles including those in CBS Television Distribution and a stint as Senior Supervising Producer for Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, J.D. Crowley accepted the role of EVP/Digital at CBS Radio.
In November 2017, with the CBS Radio-Entercom merger complete, Crowley was welcomed into the fold at Entercom, taking the corporate-level role of Chief Digital Officer.
Task No. 1: how to make the Radio.com platform a success.
The word “platform” is used strategically by Crowley, who notes that, while apps are strategically fundamental for audio access in a digital world, dayparting by device is a hallmark of Radio.com.
There’s also something else unique about Radio.com: It is emerging as a leading spoken word platform for on-demand and live audio, with some of Entercom’s more popular hosts driving listener demand for content.
“With the merger, we hit the ground running at the end of 2017,” Crowley says. At the start of 2018, he sat with his team to lay out a vision for what Radio.com could become.
This, he says, focused on “controlling your own destiny, with your own content.”
With what Crowley believes is Entercom’s dominant strength in the News/Talk and Sports formats, the company has “an embarrassment of riches in terms of assets.” And, based on the daily habits of consumers, tune-in was “pretty crazy” thanks to some of the strong brands in the Entercom stable, once CBS Radio was added.
“The first thing we did then was to determine how to leverage this, and then create the same kind of stickiness on the digital side,” Crowley says. “We are clearly at a moment as it relates to audio where content distribution and advertising all are in a renaissance.”
This led Entercom’s C-Suite executives to review just how its content was consumed. Crowley and his team looked at where Entercom’s stations had their audio streams. The answer? “All over the place.”
But, in large part, much of the company’s audio streaming was through TuneIn, and not its own station apps.
Radio.com gave a solution to ad revenue bleed on the digital side, while offering consumers the fullest array of content tied to the Entercom station or programs they were listening to.
“We needed to take this asset that had been underleveraged and create our own platform, with something unique and special in the market,” Crowley says as Radio.com began its rebirth.
With funds directed toward Radio.com, something that perhaps wasn’t so readily available under CBS Radio, Crowley and his team moved to re-engineer and re-energize the platform. Once the rebuild was ready for public consumption, Entercom’s stations in July 2018 exited the TuneIn platform; CBS Radio stations faded off the platform in August 2018.
What happened from there is testament to the power of radio, and listener loyalty. Crowley expected an online data “trough” as TuneIn usage disappeared and use of Radio.com gradually increased, perhaps over several months.
The growth happened much quicker than anticipated. “It was significantly faster than what the model showed, with no paid marketing of Radio.com — just social media and best practices for audience development.”
It also proved that on-air mentions of Radio.com worked, some six weeks into its launch. “It really showed us something about the daily habit nature of the stations Entercom owns.”
Eight months after Radio.com’s relaunch, and today with a new logo, Crowley says it is the fastest-growing digital audio app in the U.S., and on thousands of distribution partner devices.
Crowley is leading the charge on the inking of new deals, and bringing Radio.com to “new hardwire devices.”
He’s excited and proud of what his team has accomplished. For starters, the session length and minutes per month, per user, more than doubled in the last month or so.
Then, there is access through Connected TVs via Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Crowley notes that session lengths of more than three hours are being logged.
“I would have loved to have that on the TV side,” he quips, thinking back to his days at CBS.
“This shows how we’re leaning in to live and local programming, and leaning in to spoken word programming, and then providing this breadth around music discovery and pulling in our events business,” Crowley adds.
Meanwhile, one may ask why Entercom decided to keep the “Radio.com” branding in an age when everything is about audio?
Crowley was more than willing to discuss the reasons for this. Simply stated, Entercom did a ton of research — “maybe even more than you can imagine.” The company found that consumers knew what radio was, and what the expectation was from it: news and information, and traffic, rated high. This again puts Radio.com in a slightly different arena than iHeartRadio, which is music-focused, giving Entercom a different consumer appeal point than online entities Spotify and Pandora.
“If you can deliver what radio can deliver in a very simple experience through a smart speaker or smartphone or such, then [the consumer] is all-in,” Crowley notes. “People love radio but they want more easy-to-use ways to consume it across all of their devices.”
“If you can deliver what radio can deliver in a very simple experience through a smart speaker or smartphone or such, then [the consumer] is all-in. People like radio but they want more easy-to-use ways to consume it.”
The original Radio.com had few, if any, outside-of-CBS Radio partners — one, WDST-FM “Radio Woodstock,” defected to iHeartRadio. The new Radio.com just inked a deal that will add Bonneville International Corp. and Cox Media Group‘s radio stations to the platform.
How did that come together?
Crowley couldn’t speak for its partners, but says that one of Entercom’s wishes for creating “amazing platform for consumers” is bringing quality content from sources beyond its own radio stations — such as its recently forged deals with Bloomberg and CNN. Plus, the deals get Entercom into some markets where it does not own stations.
Crowley was asked of his plans to integrate podcasts from Cadence13, which Entercom in 2017 invested $9.7 million in, into Radio.com.
Podcasts are listed on the platform today. In Q2, Radio.com development will involve “blowing out” promotion of on-demand listening — a sign that spoken word content is set to be a big draw, along with Entercom’s music stations.
Crowley points to the WFAN-AM & FM/New York morning show hosted by Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti, in addition to the syndicated program The Men’s Room, based at KISW-FM in Seattle as key programs that are integral to the growth of Radio.com.
It was shared with Crowley that starting the day with WINS-AM in New York via the Radio.com app in the home, and tuning to KROQ-HD2 in Los Angeles while at work, was typical behavior for RBR+TVBR‘s editor-in-chief.
But, what of the ubiquitous nature of TuneIn, as it is built into Apple CarPlay and gym equipment at many five-star hotels across North America and the Caribbean?
“Our goal was to get to all of the majors by end of 2018,” Crowley says, hinting that a “new tranche of deals” will be shared by the end of March. “Are we in the toaster yet? No. But we are tiering in terms of usage.”
That usage could make Radio.com a household name — further reestablishing “Radio” as a top audio choice by using digital as a solution, and not a disruption tool.
— Adam R Jacobson reported on this story from Boca Raton, Fla.