Welcome to the first edition of SoCast's Faces for Radio, our new monthly series where we interview people from the radio industry to talk about digital. This month we're interviewing Grant Biebrick, Program Director at 620 CKRM in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Listen to the full recording on Soundcloud or see the transcript of our interview below:
SoCast: Welcome to this month’s edition of Faces for Radio, where we feature personalities from the radio industry and talk about digital. I’m here today with Grant Biebrick, Program Director at 620 CKRM of Harvard Broadcasting in Regina, Saskatchewan. Grant, thanks for joining us.
GB: Thanks for having me.
SoCast: First question, how did you get into radio? Can you tell me a little bit about your journey there and how you got started.
GB: Well it all started out making cassette tapes and mix tapes. Went on a road trip one summer, met a lot of people from out of town. We would sort of exchange mix tapes as a way of keeping in touch. After a while, that sort of died out. But I was always that kid in the backseat of the car, who knew all the commercials and could sing all the jingles.
Spent a lot of time listening to the radio in Calgary, which was one of the few markets in the area at the time with an alternative rock station. So then I thought I’d be a DJ when I went to college. I graduated as a producer and then became a writer. In 10 years I transitioned into programming.
SoCast: Wow, that’s really cool. Sounds like radio was just a natural fit for you then. Really nice how it just kind of evolved like that.
What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen since you’ve gotten into radio in terms of digital and how that has helped your industry and workflows?
GB: When bandwidth got to the point where you had actual DSL and you could send MP3s and it wouldn’t take a week to deliver, you would start to see files being sent by email. Then you kind of went to FTPs, drop boxes, you started getting more into just being able to ship files around and just the ease that kind of opened things up and then a lot of stations started using that to ship voice tracks and full length programs. You didn’t have to catch the BN feed of the rock radio or the Rock 20 countdown with Liz McKinney anymore if your dat tape died while you were doing a dub, well you could just grab it off FTPs and stuff like that.
It’s been pretty crazy how much, I like to think, there’s people around this office here who have been in radio for 40 years and they were doing stuff on tape and splicing. I skipped that. The whole point of how far we’ve come since ‘97 when I got in and just the beginnings of digital and where we are now with websites, social media and everything that’s sort of piled up on your announcers over the years where it used to be cutting tape with actual tape and pulling your CD library or your record library and putting all your commercials into the cart decks and now all that got automated but now we’ve filled up the announcers’ time with other things that they do while the songs are playing so you don’t have to get all your songs in order for your shift but you have to be feeding your social media beast as the program’s going on.
SC: I’m sure yeah, the technology eliminates some of the work and creates others in a way, but at the same time it also creates new opportunities. Well, that’s the way that we like to look at it anyways because you know, that’s sort of our thing.
GB: *laughs*. It’s different ways to connect with the audience. I think we’ve gone from being...everything’s gone from being sort of that silo of ‘this is radio’ to now ‘everything is media’ across the board. You’re seeing TV stations that are getting more into the digital side. You’re seeing radio stations that are more on the digital and adding video into the mix. Everybody’s sort of figured out that it doesn’t matter how you reach an audience, you just need to reach and speak to them in some way shape or form and be accessible wherever they look. You’re not a radio station anymore, you’re a brand that’s attaching...or being there as a service to an audience that they’re coming to you for whatever reason and super-serving them as best you can.
SoCast: What would you think is the biggest opportunity for radio to grow and expand its reach with its audience sort of in the next five to ten years?
GB: Blue sky? *laughs* I think you’re seeing more and more of the transition into digital and it’s, once you see more of the old guard kind of hitting retirement age and the young guard coming in that are more digital-native, I think you’re going to see more integration and more immediacy. More along the lines of how we involve our audience more in the creation of playlists. Harvard does a fair bit of that with some of the properties that they have and being more mobile. I think you may start seeing some stations that are going to be pushing out stuff in that their mindset is digital first and they just happen to have a terrestrial station that syndicates the feed to people that are listening on the radio. Driven more off what is happening on the app and what’s happening on the screen even as an audio broadcaster. Audio’s always going to play a factor.
Radio’s just such a beast that has survived so many things that were supposed to kill it.
SC: I have heard that before actually.
GB: Yeah, TV was supposed to kill it - nope! And now TV’s the one as far as a standalone broadcasting stick, TV’s the one that seems to be having the issues as being able to grab I guess with what TV did. Music videos got leeched by YouTube. It was easily replicable and you didn’t have to wait for the one music video channel to play the one music video you wanted to see, you could just go to YouTube and find it, and it’s there. You start having Netflix and YouTube and what those streaming services have done to TV where the program that you were tuning in for that was easily replicable somewhere else.
What I’m hoping to find from radio is just a double down on talent, double down on the curation aspect of audio instead of a lot of jukeboxes out there because those can be done by all the pureplays that are popping up everywhere. You find talent that has something to say, you give them the platform to say it and you let them fill the show and almost go back to the glory days of radio before everything got syndicated across the board, where you have people that have something to say that can build an audience and they’re playing songs that matter and are relevant to the audience and that are part of the narrative of the program that keep people tuned in. It’s almost going back to the days of the boss jocks who were picking their own playlists and pulling their own music. I think you could start seeing stuff like that coming back.
SoCast: I’m looking at the Google Analytics for you guys, seeing what you do and I’m seeing crazy numbers like 500 blog posts and 1,400 social posts per month. Can you tell me a little bit more about your strategy there and how SoCast supports that from a workflow perspective? How do we make it easier for you guys to post that kind of volume?
GB: Oh man, it’s absolutely a piece of cake, when you’re using SoCast on that stuff. We had a news page on our previous site that was an HTML page, so they just blanked it out and put the more recent news up every day. To go to a system where you’ve got a CMS and you’ve got archives, and you can have searchable archives and you can put your posts up, and have them show up in the Wordpress blog format. The back end is easy for our people to use. It displays in the way that we want it on the site. I don’t know how much easier it gets than that.
A big thing is being able to have multiple [social media] accounts tied in so that we can share it out. You post a news story, you publish it, it goes live and then bam... you can share it out to your socials and type in your headlines so that you can get the clickbacks from your different social feeds. Even if they’re not necessarily a listener to the station, we’re going to reach them on the radio, we’re going to have that touchpoint on social media. We can also be of service to our audience in that way.
When you do your socials, especially with your news content, are you using hashtags and are you tagging things that make it shareable and searchable for people who are looking for that specific subject? It’s all part of the strategy with our news pages. When you send them to a story about something, are you doing links within the story to previous articles about the same subject, that let them kind of go down that rabbit hole and follow the trail as you’re sort of digging through the site and keeping them on the page longer as they’re exploring more on that subject.