Chances are, if you work in radio, you know Dan Vallie. The founder of Vallie Richards Donovan Consulting has worked with most every radio group in every market and format for 30 years. “Probably the greatest gift is the relationships built over the years with so many great people in our industry,” Vallie says.
Founded in 1988, his onetime DC metro consultancy has grown to include offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Pittsburgh and its current base in Blowing Rock, NC.
“I’m pleased to call so many broadcasters friends and the relationships are a reward—probably from simply being around for so long,” he tells Inside Radio.
Vallie is equally renowned as founder and president of the National Radio Talent Institute, a 10-day workshop and tutorial in radio, driven to discover, coach and prepare the next generation of broadcasters. More than 30 broadcast professionals typically lead sessions in their area of expertise in on-air music radio, news and sports, digital/social media, production, promotion, sales, engineering, programming and management. It continues to expand at universities in different states.
Students who have completed the Institute’s curriculum have gotten jobs in radio or a related field with the likes of Hubbard Radio, iHeartMedia, CBS Radio, Entercom, Cumulus Media, Beasley Broadcast Group, Midwest Family Broadcasting Group, Forever Communications, Curtis Media, Commonwealth Broadcasting, Alpha Media and CNN.
Vallie speaks with Inside Radio about the ever-expanding impact of the Institute, and his insights on the past—and future—of the industry he loves. An edited transcript follows.
With nearly 30 years commandeering Vallie Richards Donovan, to what do you attribute the success of one of the longest-running radio consultancies?
It’s flattering and humbling to even be asked that. We have great people. We have always worked to have consultants in the company that are outstanding as programmers and as consultants but it goes beyond that. I’ve learned over the years that one of the most important characteristics is to find a person who cares. I can tell you that each one here cares about standards, about quality, about the clients we work with and they care about the people and the industry.
What do you believe are your greatest accomplishments in the broadcasting industry?
I have enjoyed everything I’ve done. I absolutely am proud of Vallie Richards Donovan Consulting. It’s been a good journey since we started back in 1988. Over the years we have worked with almost every significant broadcast group in each era. We have worked with some of the great stations in America and helped others to become successful.
As someone in the trenches, what is the most significant evolution you have seen in the radio business since 1988?
That would be a long conversation. Obviously the consolidation after the passing of the Telecom Bill in 1996—and seeing several stations in a market under one owner and then under one roof—affected programming and sales strategies tremendously. Voice tracking impacted the talent side significantly, although as time has passed, many now use this feature very effectively on-air.
Programmers and managers in many cases now are overseeing a lot of radio stations and many formats, and they have to be better today than at any time in our past. So that has made the best in the business better than ever.
Why does radio continue to be such a dominant medium, reaching all ages every week?
A friend of mine stepped away from the industry for almost a year. He was listening with different ears when he wasn’t immersed in it every day. The surprising thing: He said he realized just how good radio is and how much he enjoyed it as a listener. I think that’s true. Not only are we part of the fabric of American culture, when radio stations are as good as they can be, they are entertaining and informative and compelling….And of course the product is free.
How concerned are you about streaming as a competitor?
It’s just another part of the fragmentation. Every radio station should stream, it’s almost tedious and redundant to go into the reasons why, but suffice it to say listeners listen to streams and radio stations should be where listeners are. If a station is not streaming it’s not leveling the playing field.
And while I’m on that subject, I should point out that too many stations don’t prioritize the quality of their streams, both technically and content-wise. That is bad for the individual station and bad for the industry. Anyone guilty of that should recommit to a quality stream today.
Please explain how your Radio Talent System came to be. Its need is apparent, but what is its purpose?
The National Radio Talent System came about because of, as you said, an obvious need in the industry. We have all talked for decades about the need for a talent farm or incubator to bring young talent into the business, but because of time, priorities, funds or just simply not knowing how to build a model to make it work, there never was a committed and organized effort to do that, until now, and we need it more than ever.
There are four prongs to the system: the National Radio Talent System itself, which conducts the Institutes; the sponsor of each Institute, a broadcaster or group or association; the universities that host the Institute on their campuses and become National Radio Talent System affiliates; and, of course, the students who have a passion and desire to be in the business and apply to be accepted into the Institute. It’s the only program of its kind in the world.
A few years ago I finally could carve out the time to work on it when my wife and I moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Appalachian State University asked if I would sit on their Communications Advisory Board and that began a relationship. Eventually, I asked if they would allow me to start the first ever Radio Talent Institute on their campus, and I let them know that if it was successful, I was going to do the concept nationally. Now with additional funding from the NCAB, it became very successful very quickly in North Carolina.
You have radio’s heavy hitters involved and committed. What’s your pitch and how do they interact with students?
Broadcasters know there is a need and just as importantly, we love the business we are in. With that comes the desire to help others come into the business and keep it thriving. That effort to give and serve contributes to our feeling fulfilled and energized, by not only helping the industry thrive but helping young lives fulfill their dreams and ambitions to be successful, just like we were when we got in and fortunately, most of us still feel that.
That has to keep you focused on the future.
These are exciting times for our industry. We have a lot of right decisions to make, but if we continue to do so, it will be another great era for radio, 21st century style. We should, will and do embrace all new technology to get us there. But it always has been true and always will be true that people make the difference. Technology just levels the playing field; the people we have is what leads to success. Bringing that next generation into our industry is what it is all about.