Radio + TV = Static Electricity

If any TV station group is emblematic of what local broadcasting looks like in 2015, it is E.W. Scripps. As it finalizes a merger with Journal Communications, Scripps, like many other major groups, will unload the newspaper division it has held for 136 years. When the merger closes in the coming months, Scripps will forge ahead with not only an expanded TV group, but 34 radio stations in eight markets—including five markets in which it owns both television and radio stations.

While the radio outlets, including ones in Milwaukee and Tucson, Ariz., were likely not a major motivator for Scripps to pair up with Journal, corporate leadership is pumped about local radio’s ability to help the group create what BrianLawlor, senior VP of television, calls “master brands” in its common markets. There will be content cross-pollination, expansive sales campaigns and cobranded community events. Lawlor is intrigued by how the radio properties might complement TV. “I like the energy and creativity that exist in radio in terms of coming up with new ways to present news and entertainment,” he said. “There’s not enough of that in [television] broadcasting.”

Granted, broadcast radio is hardly the sexiest media segment today. But efforts to revamp it, coupled with TV stations’ desire to extend their brands on any and all platforms, have made radio stations increasingly sought-after in the TV world. Univision, for one, has pushed hard to get local radio and television on the same page in common markets. Sinclair appears bullish on being a radio operator in Seattle, and CBS is taking its meshed local TV-radio operations to the next phase of their one-team philosophy. And while the concept of media convergence had fallen out of favor over the past decade, TV-radio partnerships have substantial momentum.

Last August, Univision announced a significant restructuring with Kevin Cuddihy, then president of Univision Television Group, elevated to president of a “Local Media” division with a combined 130 TV and radio stations.

With 11 colocated operations, Cuddihy speaks of a world where the consumer wakes up to a Univision radio station, watches the group’s local morning program, peruses the station site at work, listens to the Uforia radio app during lunch and then views news and novellas at home before setting that alarm to Univision radio again. “We aim to hold on to listeners and viewers all day long,” Cuddihy said. “We felt having one local face is the way to deliver the most listeners and viewers to our clients.”

Welcome to Re-Convergence

Convergence was the media buzzword 15 years ago, when AOL and Time Warner took their marital vows and Media General famously brought TV, newspaper and digital under one giant $40-million roof in Tampa. The various media entities were to work side-by-side—sharing tips, breaking news and cranking out content for a range of platforms. But with cultural chasms and disparate tastes on different platforms, the model, for the most part, did not hit the lofty goals its architects promised.

Cox Media Group continues to deploy a TV-radio-print strategy in markets including Dayton and Atlanta, and Bonneville does the same in Salt Lake City. But station groups, by and large, are eager to be free from print siblings. Media General shed its newspaper holdings in 2012, Tribune divested print last year and Gannett is slated to do so in 2015. Gracia Martore, Gannett CEO, called it a “bittersweet” moment. “It was not a simple decision to be the CEO that spins out our publishing business,” she told USA Today last August. “But what I had to look at, in the future, was, ‘What is the right structure for this company going forward?’”

TV stations are also less inclined to partner with newspapers owned by other companies. A decade ago, fully half had a newspaper partner in their market, according to Bob Papper, author of the annual RTDNA/Hofstra University stations survey. By 2010, it was around 25%, and it remains there. More typically, retrans-rich stations simply poach the print journalists they find most desirable, as WDRB Louisville has done with the Louisville Courier-Journal numerous times, and WTHR Indianapolis did recently with Indianapolis Star sports columnist Bob Kravitz.

TV-radio partnerships, on the other hand, remain strong. Some 42% of TV stations had a local radio partner in 2013, up from the 40% that had one the year before. While the number of partnerships is down from 2010 levels, it’s expected to rise in 2015. The cultures, say several industry watchers, match up far better than TV and print. The key is knowing when, and when not, to pair up resources. “You can’t say everyone is in on everything together,” one station veteran said of such arrangement. “You have to be selective.”

Several powerhouse TV stations, including WBAL Baltimore and KFMB San Diego, have built their winning brands with help from local corporate radio siblings. Sinclair’s “KOMO News Network,” encompassing the TV and radio stations in Seattle, followed the Seahawks to the Super Bowl with “unequaled depth” in the market, says Janene Drafs, VP and general manager. A few years ago, conventional wisdom had Sinclair selling the stations after it acquired the Fisher group.

An ‘Eye’ to the Future

The modern age of TV-radio synergy was hatched in 2009, when CBS announced that its TV, radio and digital outlets in common markets would work as partners, not rivals. There would be joint websites, content and marketing initiatives and, in markets including San Francisco and Boston, colocated operations. Almost five years later, CBS local media executives say the revamp has been a major success. In the Twin Cities, WCCO-AM host Dave Lee and BUZ’N @102.9 country host Paul Koffy appear on WCCO-TV’s morning news each weekday. In New York, WCBS-TV chief meteorologist Lonnie Quinn and colleague John Elliott present weather on WCBS-AM.

CBS local sales execs now go to market with a unified strategy. “We can go to CMOs at major companies and tell them the assets we have are unparalleled compared to our competition,” said Anton Guitano, chief operating officer, CBS Local Media.

The might of CBS’ radio portfolio in New York has helped WCBS-TV, traditionally stronger in the suburbs, elevate its presence within the city limits. The joint efforts prompted CBS to acquire three radio stations in Miami. The deal closed Dec. 1. Less than two months later, Joe Rose, WQAM-AM host, began popping up on WFOR Miami’s morning show.

“We think there’s huge value in having radio, TV and digital in one market,” said Peter Dunn, president, CBS Television Stations.

Radio Days

Recent local media trends have catalyzed TV-radio synergies. One is the consistent growth of local digital revenue, which both TV and radio have a stake in. And Cuddihy says “the unified sales language” of local TV and radio has been a factor as well. Nielsen’s acquisition of Arbitron in 2013 was viewed as a big step toward more reliable multiplatform measurement. “The major global agencies used to have a radio buying group, a digital buying group and a television buying group,” said Cuddihy. “Now it’s local market buyers.”

Local radio’s financial position in the media landscape generally falls between television and print. At Journal, TV revenue grew 22.8% in the third quarter of 2014 while radio revenue increased 5.1% and publishing slid 5.4%. At Univision, third-quarter television revenue was up 5.7% while radio fell 12.3%, with advertising shifting to television during soccer’s World Cup. The fourth quarter saw $15 million in new multiplatform campaigns, said Cuddihy.

The radio segment has been enjoying momentum. Over 91% of the population ages 12 and older listens to broadcast radio each week, Nielsen reported in December. Since 2010, total radio users in the U.S. grew from 239.7 million to 243 million listeners.

At CES in Las Vegas in January the tech intelligentsia saw some rad gear, but Bob Pittman, iHeartMedia CEO, called radio the most relevant medium around. “In the old days, people used to call us on the request line,” Pittman said at a CES session. “Now, they ‘call’ us over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. It’s just a communications device.”

Ryan Seacrest sang radio’s praises in the same session. “The reason I go into a radio station every day, and have since I was 15 years old,” he said, “is that there’s nowhere else to get that kind of emotional connection.”

Radio chiefs are working to reposition the medium for the future. iHeartRadio, iHeartMedia’s digital music and live-streaming platform, surpassed 60 million registered users in January. The podcast “Serial,” an offshoot of NPR’s This American Life program, averaged 5.1 million downloads per episode late last year, tallying 61 million total downloads.

CBS aims to capture some of the podcasting mojo with its new platform, which features 320 podcast series, many of them starring CBS TV and radio talent. “It will be a big digital [revenue] growth driver this year, and a bigger one next year,” said Dan Mason, president and CEO of CBS Radio.

Last spring, Univision relaunched its Uforiaapp, which features a massive song library and live streams from Univision radio stations and external ones. Jose Valle, Univision Radio president, plans to add a monthly concert series to Uforia’s offerings.

Video Thrilled the Radio Star

TV stations are finding innovative iterations for their radio partnerships. Last October, NBC’s WNBC New York began partnering with public radio outlet WNYC on news content; among other things, the two are looking at long-term weather patterns in “NYC 2050.” Meredith’s WNEM in Saginaw, Mich., simulcasts its 6 p.m. news on WSGW-AM, which helps WNEM stick its stake on the far side of the hyphenated market. “They like to have localism, and we get our content out through another network,” said Ian Rubin, WNEM news director. “It’s a great way for us to extend our brand in a region where strategically we want to grow.”

In early January, Tribune’s KPLR St. Louis debuted The McGraw Show, featuring radio personality McGraw Milhaven, on its dot-two channel. Milhavenis on KTRS-AM at 6-10 a.m., along with the 9-10 hour on KPLR. “It’s another example of us trying to accumulate viewership,” said Spencer Koch, KPLRKTVI president and general manager.

Broadcast chiefs wonder if other radio hosts can successfully transfer their winning personalities to television. Fox Television Stations, for one, has proven adept at turning radio stars, such as Wendy Williams, into successful TV hosts. The group recently renewed Dish Nation, featuring radio teams from Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta serving up the day’s frothy celeb news, in 17 Fox markets. The hosts promote the show to their massive radio followings.

“[FTS CEO] Jack Abernethy always advocates working with radio,” said Stephen Brown, executive VP of programming development at FTS. “It’s the same demo, and the time people listen doesn’t conflict with when they watch television. It’s a great place to find entertainers and personalities.”

Scripps’ Lawlor, eagerly awaiting the close of the merger that brings Scripps back into the radio business, agrees. “The energy and creativity of radio is totally different,” he said. “We hope that transcends over to television.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.