As president of programming for Entercom Communications, Pat Paxton oversees content for the company’s 127 radio stations. But if Entercom’s proposed acquisition of CBS Radio goes through, his portfolio will nearly double in size. To generate more original content, Paxton’s team recently launched the Content Innovation Group to produce digital and social content, and to nationally syndicate popular local radio shows.
Paxton declined to comment on possible plans for the CBS Radio stations, citing the need to wait until the deal receives government approval. However, the veteran programmer, who has been with Entercom since 1999, did speak to Inside Radio about the new company-wide programming initiative, how Entercom will juggle local brands with national exposure and what its audience is looking for on its digital channels. An edited transcript follows.
What kinds of programming is working really well for your local stations right now?
At Entercom, we focus on offering the best locally curated music, news, talk and sports content. The programs that are properly targeted and executed are those that engage with listeners the most. The best-performing formats right now are top 40, country, hot AC, sports and news/talk. Many other formats thrive as long as the programmer knows the audience and speaks to their needs.
What do you see as some emerging formats?
The next big formats are hard to predict, but I know that they will have to be crafted with Millennials in mind. Many questions come to mind when I think about this: How is the industry going to grow in response to the next generation of radio users? What do Millennials expect radio to be? What devices will they be using? How is it different? What’s the impact? I think everything needs to be assessed with Millennials in mind. There are many questions, but many opportunities as well.
What motivated Entercom to create the Content Innovation Group? Were you already informally sharing content and ideas between stations, and between the digital and on-air side? What are some examples of this?
The Content Innovation Group was created as part of Entercom’s commitment to delivering the best curated music, news, talk and sports content in the markets we serve. Before the group was created, we shared content between brands, but now we have organized these efforts to ensure our ability to create content once and share it often. Liana Huth, VP of program innovation, leads the new group to identify and create compelling new content for all of our platforms, including digital, social media and experiential, and she focuses on providing listeners with a deeper, richer experience.
How will you balance sharing content and maintaining local identities?
At Entercom, local is at the core of everything we do. The combination of corporate and local efforts is our secret formula. The content team produces content that we can distribute often instead of having a dozen brands trying to do the same thing. Conversely, the group also pulls great content from local brands and pushes it out across the company where it makes sense. However, none of us knows the local markets better than our local PDs and talent. Local markets produce content that we never could.
What do you think listeners are most interested in on the digital side? Is it podcasts, original video, time-shifted content?
It depends on where you are, what format you’re talking about and the effort put into the initiative. At [sports] WEEI in Boston, all three do well because we have a very robust digital department that not only repurposes compelling content but also creates it. Not every brand in every market has these resources, but where great content exists and technology is available, all three are important.
What kind of digital content do you think users are seeking out from their favorite radio stations? Does it need to involve disc jockeys or be tied to the format?
You have to be careful with music content because of licensing rules, and, today, music can be found in many places. At Entercom, not only do we offer our listeners the best music, but our personalities also bring that unique twist to our content that you can’t get anywhere else, due to our on-air and digital-content efforts. Start with great content, and the promotion takes care of itself. If we get our on-air people excited about our digital content, promotion is easy.
With so many strong local stations and personalities, how can you use your digital channels to provide them with a larger platform? Are you doing this already?
We are in the process of expanding our digital channels. Currently, many of our programs and personalities do podcasts, which may include new or repurposed content. We are in the early innings, with a very exciting game ahead.