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Dave Brooks
WCIC Peoria

Riding The Digital Wave





We could see the huge digital wave forming in the distance several years ago. The new study “Here She Comes 2012” just released from Alan Burns brings a clear picture of where we are in relation to this powerful wave. He offers numbers, confirming the inevitable. Radio’s share of listener attention is shrinking, while new media usage is rapidly growing. The digital wave is here.


Burns studied media consumption behavior of more than 2,000 women 15-54, evenly distributed for regional balance. Here’s what the digital wave currently looks like:

  • Women listening to an online stream of a radio station represented 33.9% of those sampled in 2011. Online listening is now 42.7%. And online TSL grew from :30 to 1:30.

  • In 2011, 94.6% listened to radio—on a radio. That figure is now 86.9%, with TSL declining from 2:00 to 1:45.

  • With the strength of these trends and with all the buzz about the digital dashboard, the force of the wave will only become stronger.


Rick Warren opened his classic book, Purpose-Driven Church, encouraging pastors to learn to recognize waves and ride them. He observed, “When surfers see a good wave, they make the most of it, even if that means surfing in the middle of a storm.*” For some in radio, the digital wave will mean a season of tremendous opportunity. For some, it will mean wipeout. For all of us in radio, it means change.


The intention of this article is not to offer tips for understanding the fine points of Google Analytics or Facebook Edgerank. It’s to get the view from 40,000 feet. Like so many stations, WCIC is doing our best to work through this stuff. I’ll share our story along with managerial musings. We’ll walk through some ideas that have come from an honest look at the trending. How can we get “positioned” for an incredible ride?


I hate to admit it, but for years, we tacked on web and other new media responsibilities for the PD to oversee, with help from the promotions director and the real experts: our interns. This approach of “divide and conquer” seemed to work. We were busy doing what we already knew how to do. We didn’t have time to give new media the attention it really deserved. We’re radio people.


Vital signs were healthy but I was growing uneasy. We couldn’t continue to grow in new media without doing something to blow the lid off. We had to find a way to allocate more time, energy and resources. Early this year we made a commitment. We decided, we absolutely must staff, structure, and budget to ride the wave of platform migration. What matters most to us is our relationship with our listener—not whether she listens on a radio or interacts through mobile/web.


Over the next several months, our leadership team hammered out what this commitment will look like for WCIC. Here’s what we came up with:·     

  • We’d split the PD’s responsibilities and make it two positions. We’ll view radio and digital as two departments, each with a department leader, and lots of crosstalk.

  • Our On-Air PD will handle the radio side, the traditional PD responsibilities. 

  • We’ll create a new position, Digital PD. He’ll oversee web, mobile/app, video, texting, and social media with the same disciplines a good PD would bring to radio. ·     

  • In addition, we’ll change the assignment of the Production Director to include video and social media support. The new title for the role will be Audio/New Media Producer.


We’ve made the structural changes. We’ve hired or re-classified roles. We’ve updated every job description in the building. The team is energized. Still, there are tough questions we’ll need to sort through.

  • How can we make sure our new media content and radio content maintain alignment?

  • With two people in charge of two departments, can we still speak with one organizational voice?

  • The org chart with clear lines is out the window. Since she works in both departments of the station, will the promotions director’s head spin now with two direct supervisors?


It’s helped in a huge way, just to frame the questions. Our PD’s recognize the potential for their areas to become silos. They know station life is going to be inefficient at first, as we tool out new meeting rhythms. We’re adopting a matrix structure, where the emphasis is more on the communication path and what we’re trying to accomplish than hierarchy.


From the beginning, our Program Director seemed like the ideal person to become DPD. In my view, the right person to drive digital strategy must have a deep understanding of our target audience and embody our mission. Technical wizardry can be learned or out-sourced. Our DPD has found valuable resources for learning through webinars (Alan Burns, Jacobs Media), Radio Ink’s Convergence conference, and dialogue with other digital professionals. There’s a small, but rich community sharing ideas through the New Media Forum, as a part of


At a conference several years ago, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki walked the audience through the history of the ice industry. In the late 1800’s ice companies in the Northeast would cut many tons of ice from frozen lakes and sell them around the world. Business was thriving.  A few years later, ice harvesters were put out of business by ice factories. Then it happened again. The ice factories were put out of business by refrigerator companies. You’d think the ice harvesters would have seen the opportunity to embrace the new technology and maintain market dominance. But all they could think about was what they already knew: better saws, better storage, and better transportation. Ice makers made the same blunder. Kawasaki says, “One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to accept the known and resist the unknown.” He counsels us to do the opposite. “Challenge the known and embrace the unknown.”


The trends are clear. We’re no longer speculating about when the wave is coming. We’re already wet. Now’s the time to decide how serious we are about riding the wave. If we’re in the radio business, it’s going to be rough waters. If we’re in the business of spreading hope, we’re entering days of unprecedented opportunity. All we have to do is keep our radio core strong and figure out how to get on top of the new media wave without getting whacked in the head - by our control room sound board.  


Ideas for Digital Role Definitions

Digital Program Director

Oversee the way the station is represented in the digital space. Set vision, innovate, coach team.

Work with manager & team in constructing & scheduling eBlasts, texts, blogs, videos & other social media content; digital content posting assignments will be rotated among staff, optimized for scheduling balance & impac

Ensure continuity of station voice across all distribution platforms: audio, visual, print, & digital. Manage  tone, balance, accessibility, & substance

Oversee writing of station promo summaries

Collaborate with On-Air PD in building promo calendar, supervision of staff, maintaining alignment of digital voice with on-air voice

Serve, support & coach new media/audio producer
Create culture of digital alertness. Challenge team to always look for ways to provide a deeper, richer experience for listeners through new media

 Audio/New Media Producer

·       Produce station videos & still photos to tell our story

·       Help DPD equip team to take great photos at every event

·       Video coverage or photography for station representation in community

·       Assist in digital strategy formation as requested 

·       Develop volunteer pool for voice work & video acting

·       Recruit listeners and talent for “listener story” production—audio & video

*Rick Warren, Purpose-Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), p.13

Part of New Life Media (Carlinville, IL), in August, Dave will celebrate his 25th year as station manager of WCIC, Peoria. Dave Brroks can be contacted at