Cherry Creek Radio was born February 1, 2004. The company operates 58 small-market stations in St. George, UT; Lewiston, ND; four markets in Montana (Great Falls, Helena, Butte, and Missoula); Eastern Washington (Tri-Cities and Wenatchee); and Sierra Vista, AZ. Only one of those markets, Tri-Cities, is rated. Joe Schwartz is Cherry Creek’s president and CEO and has been executing great radio for 38 years. Schwartz is part of our annual “Independent Warrior” issue of Radio Ink to be released Monday. A common theme among the small- to mid-market operators we interviewed was that to survive in radio today you must reinvent who you are. How did Schwartz do that? Let’s find out…
Schwartz tells Radio Ink that the radio business has changed so drastically that if you’re doing it the same way you were six, seven, eight years ago, you’re going to get killed. “That’s an industry problem. They are not adapting as fast as they need to. The first thing is to make your spot business as bulletproof as you can, meaning internally you have to have all of your systems in place, all of your training in place, all of your traffic systems in place, all your production in place, all of your creative in place. Today’s world is not running 20 units an hour. Anybody still doing that doesn’t understand the competition out there. We’ve cut all of our FM stations to 12, in three breaks, and four units a break. We’ve gone to units. And I’m even considering cutting a break. Depends on the math. I might, I might not. We have to consider everything.”
Schwartz also says: Know who your competition is these days. “The competition is in audio, not necessarily radio. If our competitors have low commercial loads and we are out there running 20 spots an hour, we are in big trouble. Secondly, what we are working on is creating our own programming. For example, my morning show in Missoula is now statewide. I have Classic Rock stations in all four Missoula markets. Brian and Chris, my morning show in Missoula, is on in those four markets. If that works, I might syndicate it to the rest of the state. I’m working on things like that, creating other shows in other formats. We believe local is important, but content is king. If I have better product somewhere, I would rather do that than put on a crummy local product.
And of course you have to have a digital strategy. “Not sure it’s a huge moneymaker, but you have to have it in your tool kit. We ran into a few instances where auto allocations were being dictated to digital. That’s money we need to be able to go after with digital products. You’re not going to have a digital product that competes with Google, but most of our advertisers don’t care about that.
They’re more interested in other things, and if you can meet those needs, you’re in a much better position than you were before. I’ve been spending most of this year on calls, talking to a lot of my advertisers, doing my own research. Really, more and more, you have to have a digital presence if you are in our industry.”
We also snuck in a bonus question on Schwartz and asked him what keeps him up at night.
“Growing revenue — it’s the top 10 things that keep me up at night. As president and CEO of Cherry Creek Radio, that’s my job. My primary job right now is to find ways to grow revenue. Period. Anybody looking at that any differently in this industry is not looking at it right. We have to grow the revenue here. No doubt. That is literally what keeps me up at night.”