Columbus Radio Is Thriving Despite Strong Competitors In The Music Industry

Like most everybody, listening to music has always been a part of my life, and with that comes listening to the radio. During my work commute I rely on the radio’s music to make the traffic more bearable. With one simple click, I can turn on my radio and the music that follows provides a soundtrack to my otherwise hectic drive. In the moment, I need music. I do not have time to, or need the distraction of digging through my purse to find my phone, plugging the aux cord into it, and picking out a playlist. The radio provides me instant relief. I love it.

I see the appeal of music streaming services. Getting to customize your own playlists with the endless options of the service’s music library sounds great. Shorter, limited commercial breaks between songs, or none if you are willing to pay a monthly fee.

However, the task of setting up a brand new music library seems daunting. I would hate for setting up a playlist of my favorite songs to feel like a chore. That is why the radio is a great fit for me, and maybe I’m not alone.

When it comes to technology, I am always a couple steps behind the game. I like to see if the latest technological craze is going to stick around before I dive in head first. This applies to the music streaming craze, too. I have used Pandora Internet Radio, with its moderately customizable radio stations, and enjoyed its simplicity. I only recently downloaded Spotify and it has been around since 2008. I am now one of over 100 million users of the streaming service. I set up a free account to see if the music streaming service was a good fit for me before I joined the roughly 40 million that have already subscribed. Though the sound of commercial free and offline listening is starting to sound nice.

Apple Music joined the playing field in 2015 as Apple’s take on music streaming. I like the idea of all my music staying in one place. Since getting my first iPod in 2007, I have amassed a decent collection of songs in my iTunes Music library. The seamless transition of iTunes to Apple Music and the 3 month free trial is making signing up for it more and more tempting.

Sorry, Jay-Z, but choosing TIDAL as my music streaming service has never been a consideration.

Surprisingly, the radio industry here in Columbus has not been heavily affected by these streaming services. Even though they might appear to be fierce competitors, the top radio stations in Columbus have seen little to no decline in the number of people tuning in to their broadcasts.

Consumers are continuing to turn on the dial and tune in to the radio. Music lovers in Columbus, Ohio are no exception. The reasons to listen to the radio are straightforward. It is free, it is easily accessed, and it is always there.

“We don’t really feel that there’s a need to combat it,” says Randy Malloy, the owner and president of WWCD 102.5 FM, on music streaming services. “I mean, It’s an enhancement of what we do. People are going to find music and listen to music anyway that they want.”

“I don’t look at it like competition,” says Michael McCoy. The South Ohio Region Senior Vice President of Programming at iHeartRadio has a similar take on music streaming. “You know, a lot of the same talk came out when Sony came out with the walkman.”

The way that people have consumed music has changed a lot over the years. From vinyl, to cassette tape, then the CD, the MP3 file, and now music streaming. It is the Radio has remained a constant staple of the music lover’s diet, but it has also transformed.

Stacy McKay, a morning show host on Sunny95 WSNY, says, “ It’s interesting because everybody said, ‘Oh we have iPods and streaming music and iTunes and all of the devices that we have other than radio.’ And yet, everybody said that radio was going to die and it did not.” She has seen it adapt before her eyes. She goes on to say, “What differentiates us or keeps people listening to the radio is that you can’t get that local information, you can’t get local news and you can’t get local personalities on any of those different devices.”

Most radio stations in Columbus were locally owned until the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This act allowed companies across market lines to compete for business. Clear Channel Communications, Inc.—now known as iHeartMedia, Inc.—was one of the first businesses to capitalize on the act’s new rules and Clear Channel purchased over 70 media companies, Today, iHeartMedia is the largest radio station owner in the country with nearly 900 radio stations under its control.

Being a radio station under the media giant’s wing has its perks.

“We have more resources, we have more access to information. Really, that’s the long and short of it,” says McCoy. “That’s part of what gives us a leg up over the other radio companies in town, is we’re not just a radio company, we’re a media company.”

It is thanks to these resources that iHeartMedia is able to offer its listeners the iHeartRadio app. This app provides an experience similar to that of a music streaming service and allows users to create playlists and follow certain radio stations. Much like streaming services, the iHeartRadio app has subscription options called iHeartRadio Plus and iHeartRadio all Access. These two subscriptions offer offline stations, commercial free stations, songs out of the iHeartRadio music library, and more exclusive features. In fact, iHeartRadio’s online radio and app are growing at a remarkable rate. Within its first five years of existence, the service had grown to 90 million registered users. That is not including listeners that visit the website without a login.

Though the extensive resources of a large media company can be an asset, there are many benefits to being a locally owned company.

via CD102.5 Facebook

WWCD 102.5 FM, the locally owned alternative station, knows that while they are small in size, it does not keep them from making a big impact.

“We program it here locally for where we exist. We’re only trying to appeal to Columbus, Ohio,” says Malloy. “We’re also going to be able to introduce you to new music that you may not see.”

The station does not have to follow a strict formula and play popular music or songs that are climbing the charts. Because their format allows the disc jockeys to play whatever song they would like, they can provide listeners with a unique listening experience. This means that listeners could hear songs from different genres on the station, even though it is branded as an alternative station.

It is this person-to-person element that gives the radio industry as a whole an advantage. Disc jockeys make each listening to a radio station an unique experience. Listeners form a bond with a DJ.

“You don’t build a relationship necessarily with your music collection on a one-on-one level, but you can build a relationship with a jock,” says McCoy.

Growing up, when I would get ready for school in my room, I could hear the radio my mom was listening to the radio in the bathroom as she got ready. Together we would sing along to the songs, laugh along with the morning show hosts as they teased each other in the studio, and frantically rush out the door for school and work after they reported bad traffic on the route my mom took to work. This was our morning every weekday. Without ever being there in person, those DJs were an essential part of our routine.

Such is the case for the hundreds of thousands of people that listen to the radio in Columbus.

Radio stations also have the ability to give back directly to their communities in a way that a music streaming cannot. For instance, CD102.5 hosts a telethon called for their charity called CD102.5 for the Kids. The radio station aims to use its resources to spread awareness and get help for children and families throughout central Ohio. This telethon is the largest event that WWCD hosts for the charity and in 2015 it raised $44,000 that was distributed to several different children’s causes in the area.

“To see the direct effect that charitable giving has on people’s lives affects you. It can’t not. It really, really affects you,” says Malloy. “That was organic. It wasn’t something that we had to do.”

With five radio stations to reach listeners across Columbus, the iHeartMedia Columbus cluster, there are a lot of opportunities to do some good for the community. From helping with toy drives during the holiday season, to hosting blood drives with local television news stations for the American Red Cross, and telethons, iHeartMedia’s resources come in handy when it comes to giving back to their community.

“Where we really shine is when there is a need in the community that comes up unexpectedly, that we’ve caught on to,” says McCoy. “Which means you’ve got to just be ready to go a moment’s notice when there’s a need. The stuff that you plan is the stuff that’s usually not as successful as the stuff when there’s a need.”

“You realize that the station makes a difference for people. That it affects people in a way that it’s part of their life. And it has done things for them in a positive way,” says Malloy. He went on to say, “I love that there is something that can bring people together… and the one thing that unifies us is, again, that music.”

There is no competition between streaming services and music radio because they are playing two different tunes. Other sectors of the music industry might have to continue to evolve, but whatever the radio is doingーit is working.