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Music City
AIRWAVES:
ROD PHILLIPS
7/19/16

SVP PROGRAMMING AND BRAND MANAGER, iHEARTCOUNTRY

Phillips (r), with Tom Poleman and Jennifer Nettles

The audience share for country radio appears to be growing nationally. What changes have you made to your stations that you feel helped to bring those numbers up?
While we always set our strategy to best compete in the market or competitive landscape, one of the biggest factors in Country radio’s rise in popularity is the diversity of the artists and music. We still have big hits from the more traditional sound, but it’s combined with the contemporary styles of artists like Sam Hunt, Kelsea Ballerini and many others that have brought new listeners to the format.

Is programming the Country format different than other formats?
I’ve always believed in the adage “Good radio is good radio,” and great program directors and personalities know their target audience and have a feel for what works for that listener, so that part isn’t different from other formats. I do think many Country stations have broken away from the mold and become more dynamic and interesting with imaging, promos and content from personalities, which have improved the overall content and listening experience.

Why do you feel country artists’ relationships with radio are so much stronger than at any other format?
It’s simply a long-running understanding that radio and records working together has proven to be complementary to the success for both sides of the business. Labels rely on iHeartMedia to break new artists and introduce new music to its hundreds of millions of listeners across the country on multiple platforms—on-air, digital, live events, etc., and in return, iHeartMedia delivers great programming to our listeners. Why the individual artists seem to always genuinely support radio is proof that they simply don’t forget how impactful having their songs on the radio has been. I just watched Blake, at the Country Music Hall of Fame, name city after city based solely on radio-station bumper stickers. In many cases, he also knew the name of the program director when certain songs were added to a playlist. It’s a beautiful professional marriage and further proves that radio continues to be the leading medium for music discovery.

What are you doing to make your presence in the digital space bigger in your local markets? How important is social media to your staff/brand?
Today, digital listening accounts for about 10% of all listening—and with iHeartRadio we are able to extend our stations everywhere our listeners are. Now with digital and iHeartRadio, iHeartMedia can help artists find their audiences across all our platforms: iHeartMedia has the capability to introduce new music to hundreds of millions of listeners across its 858 broadcast stations in 150 markets, available on AM/FM, HD digital radio, satellite radio, the Internet, smartphones, iPads and tablets, auto dashboards, smart TVs and gaming consoles. And broadcast radio is social at scale. Social media adds another level of interaction with our listeners, and it’s important to connect with them everywhere they are—we at radio are experts on interactivity and have been for many years.

How important are events, festivals, etc., in growing the brand?
Country fans are extremely passionate and loyal, and at iHeartMedia we have the ability to connect artists with their fans through a unique collection of broadcast, digital and mobile, and through live events. Events help capture the essence of what music is all about—energy, passion, excitement and the deep connection between artists and their fans. That passion has always made Country radio a strong platform for events and shows and allowed us at iHeartMedia to bring that experience to fans with our annual iHeartCountry Music Festival in Austin. Thousands of country fans have packed our show every year and millions have listened to the festival on their local station and through streaming.

What’s the craziest stunt your morning show/staff has ever done?
I have to point to our nationally syndicated Bobby Bones Show for some great examples. From Lunchbox deciding to prove he could run 26.2 miles with no training at all to buying snacks at the convenience store with pantyhose over his head, this show continually shows that on-air stunts are still a viable option and compelling content. But you can probably guess which one led to Lunchbox being put in the slammer, at least temporarily.