R.A.P. Interview: Todd Manley

JV: WGN is in a neck-to-neck news/talk ratings race with WBBM. Do you feel like you’re in a battle with them on the imaging side?
Todd: Yeah, and it’s interesting. There have been times when I’ve taken subtle shots at them as being the utility. But really what’s nice is that they can be who they are, and we can be who we are. It’s the same with WLS and their talk product which is much more syndicated. The way it all kind of breaks down is ‘BBM is all cume, WLS is all time spent listening, and we’re the middle ground. So it’s that combination that really helps us out.

But it’s really, really competitive out there right now, and I still think that the key is to move people through the door for your advertisers. That sounds like such a bogus sort of suck up to our sales managers, but it is what it is. You get to come in everyday and roll up your sleeves and try to get better, and so I love what I do, and with the idea that we’re all supposed to make a buck for Mother Tribune, well that never gets in the way of my fun.

JV: You’ve imaged music formats as well as news/talk. What are your thoughts on the differences?
Todd: I’m coming up on ten years in spoken word and talk. I did two years at ‘CKG and seven and a half here now. I had done AC and CHR and Urban prior to that, and was a jock and also did imaging. I worked on the agency side for a couple of years writing and producing. I think, because I’m a music freak, that I like not being saddled by styles. Everybody who does a music station, every so often probably gets their chops busted for drifting away from the format to create something unique to get somebody’s attention. It’s nice to not have those meetings where you’re explaining yourself: “I know it was bluegrass and we’re an Urban, but I needed it!”

JV: You must have a ton of resources with regards to all of the audio clips from news events of the day and stuff like that. This must be a major plus for your imaging.
Todd: Oh yeah, absolutely. And another thing too, what is really good about successful talkers and storytellers and just passionate hosts is that they all have their own “isms” as I call them, and I keep that folder of “isms” on an external drive on my Pro Tools set up here. They’re my go-to, they’re my jingles, they’re my drops. Occasionally I use a drop now and then from a movie or a TV show or that sort of thing like everybody else, but what’s the one thing that nobody else can use? It’s your own people. So that’s the benefit I think in spoken word. You’ve got these little hooks or these things that are the cues  for the audience that go, “Oh yeah, now I know I’m listening to ‘GN,” or “Now, I know I’m listening to my station,” or whatever it happens to be, “because that’s the stuff that my guy says all the time.” It’s that comfort zone that goes, “Oh, I’m in the right place.”

JV: What about news clips from a President Bush speech that he gave earlier in the day or Alito’s hearings and stuff like that? Do you find them to be a big part of the imaging package as well?
Todd: I think it’s a combination. I still try to think about the fact that local is our calling card, and so I’m always using Bush when he’s in town — and fortunately, he’s in town once in a while. I will use the President; I will use players in the national scene next to our people. But I usually always choose local over national just because they can get the national stuff on Sean Hannity at night on ‘LS, or they can get that other places. Again, I’m just trying to always find that local touch, either somebody national talking about local things or somebody national talking to one of our local hosts. That’s always big. I always try to keep in mind that I’ve got one potential new listener stumbling on us for the first time, so there’s something about those elements that goes, “Okay, until I get to know who this person is that I’ve just turned on, this is an angle that I can track with,” and I try to suck them in that way.

JV: With your recent experience imaging talk radio and your past experience in the music formats, are there things you’ve learned imaging talk radio that one could apply to, let’s say, a CHR station for example, a way to take advantage of news clips in a better way perhaps?
Todd: Absolutely. I think the beauty of our end of the business right now is that it’s just full of inventive people. I don’t care what market you’re in, big, small or medium; I hear some pretty cool stuff. In a lot of ways that’s the best thing in my mind that’s happened to our industry, the fact that somewhere along the way people decided that this needed to be a valued element of the radio station, creating stationality.

So I think it’s a good thing when you can connect back some of this national sound to what makes your station cook, especially because people have stuff flying at them from all angles, and we’re all in search of ear candy. You think about Dave Foxx, the great unique selling point guy, one of the great guys. And then you have John Frost and Eric Chase who do really amazing stuff as content, imaging as content. We have a great guy here at Q101, Ed Spindle.

I like to split the difference somehow of working on that unique selling point for some of our event marketing and to draw people into shows, but then also just have a piece be something that someone wants to hear again. I don’t know how else to describe it. I mean, it’s like I know people that will sit around and watch ESPN just waiting for the next promo. And they’re not imaging guys. It sounds like self indulgence and sometimes that’s what you have to guard against, but on some level there’s a benefit to it being content as well.

You asked advice in terms of people in music; I would think that if you could get the PD’s ear about trying to experiment with some of that in the music format, it would benefit the station greatly. It’s ridiculous to think that just because it’s music and music is the star that you can’t sell some stationality beyond that.

Look at Oldies formats where there is nothing new about the music. I have heard of guys who have, and rightfully so, put their imaging person right up there on the same level of importance with the morning show. Some of the best people running Oldies stations view it that way. That’s the only new product in the station. The rest of it is somewhat old hat even though it’s tried and true and tested. I think if you could figure out a way to sell the concept of attaching something to the music that’s a story apart from it, you’ll love your gig even more, and you’ll help the station a great deal, you’ll help separate it from the other stations in the market.

JV: Let’s talk about the advertising, putting customers in the advertisers’ stores. How do you do it? What’s the trick?
Todd: The trick is to offer a solution to somebody’s problem, and there are people that do that brilliantly. I think you also have to buy into that 52-week plan. It’s hard for a new seller who is now working just for commission to walk away from someone who is going to buy five spots in the next month because you know it just won’t do anything for him. But that’s the beauty of what I see in our successful AEs here. They have this collection of people that get the whole Roy Williams concept of you’ve got to be out there 52 weeks a year. That’s the only way that it’s going to work to make broad impressions.

So I’m a huge fan of this and I think this maybe applies a little bit to executing some imaging too. I love this Max Lenderman experiential marketing book that’s out there. It’s that notion that you win people one at a time and they sell it for you. That works in a way with advertisers too. We have a couple of advertisers who have sold other huge clients for us just because the radio station worked for them. And it works with listenership too.

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