Bill Mayne became Executive Director of the Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc. (CRB) almost five years ago during a particularly challenging time for the country music industry and the organization. CRB conducts the industry’s largest convention for Country radio and its industry (CRS) which immediately became one of his chief responsibilities.
Fortunately, Mayne had a great deal of experience before shouldering this new assignment having occupied executive positions in radio broadcasting, artist management and as Sr. VP GM/VP Promotion for Warner Bros. Nashville. As he relates in the following interview, with the board’s approval he quickly began restructuring, rebuilding and restrengthening the organization’s core event.
According to Mayne, this year’s Country Radio Seminar will focus on the art of content curation. The discussion is timely because the mushrooming of available media channels in the car and at home—both terrestrial and Internet—are quickly creating new consumer formulas.
NEKST: What will be the focus of CRS 2014?
Bill Mayne: Post-CRS every year a theme emerges. People realize the event was about wellness, social media marketing, technology or getting records played. Last year, we brought in the Cleveland Heart lab to do inflammation testing on attendees and compared the health of our industry against the general population. People always ask, “How do you come up with a theme?” Actually, we don’t. We simply start finding relevant topics. This year what has bubbled up organically is Branded Content. Radio and the music industry are both are in the branded content business. For example, the new buzz word for programmer is content curator. In past years programmers have had to take on revenue producing responsibilities, but we’re starting to see a shift back to focusing more on the product. The seminar’s message and in fact our mission is to make people think and promote the exchange of ideas.
NEKST: Any big research planned?
Bill Mayne: We are experiencing another youth boom in country music. We’ve seen it ebb and flow before, but this time it’s lasting a bit longer so we felt it was important to see how sustainable it might be. Those 12-24 year olds are not the target audience of country radio, it’s a 25-54 adult mass appeal format. So with bold assertions being thrown out like, “young people don’t listen to country radio” we decided to get some facts and see what the real deal is. We’ve completed a statistically reliable perceptual national study on millennials that will be presented by Edison Research.
NEKST: What are country radio’s main strengths?
Bill Mayne: In my mind they are the message or content emoted over the air, and the fact that radio has the power to be immediate. Also when compared with pure plays, like Pandora and Spotify, radio adds a lot in between the records like personality and companionship. Originally radio was put on the air in the US to help people be aware of what’s going on in their world. It was built on the five pillars of programming—music, news, sports, weather and traffic. Programmers balanced and curated those ingredients. Years ago a conscious decision was made to abdicate those positions and just become “more music.” TV took news and weather, but now is being usurped by mobile which places all those pillars in your hand, on demand. We’ve seen a move away from live and local radio for various reasons, but we are starting to see a return to that core advantage.
NEKST: Balancing across this industry-wide sea of change what is the seminar’s biggest challenge going forward?
Bill Mayne: Our challenge is to remain relevant. Heritage and legacy are both wonderful things, but it’s easy to become complacent and resist change. When I say our themes and content bubble up organically, it doesn’t happen by osmosis, it’s from having a great team of people on staff and an engaged board. As a team we want attendees to walk out of every session with at least one “aha” idea that will help them increase revenues, ratings or marketshare or advance their individual career. Those are lofty goals, but that’s what we aspire to accomplish.
NEKST: While we are on the sea of change topic, is your Board of Directors comprised exclusively of terrestrial stations? I didn’t see anyone from satellite or internet stations listed.
Bill Mayne: Scott Lindy from SiriusXM was on for years and only left because he changed jobs. Members of our Agenda committee and Board are selected based on experience, perspective and what they bring to the table in helping us develop content. We look for the best minds and thinkers, people willing to step up and really participate. So we are inclusive, not exclusive and have been in the past, but we don’t fill spots just for the sake of saying we have someone from every industry are on the board at all times.
NEKST: Can you tell us how much CRS boosts the Nashville economy?
Bill Mayne: Unfortunately we don’t have complete data on this. I participated in the Mayor’s economic impact study and learned the previous methodology was based upon hotel room nights which measures only a small part of the overall impact because a lot of the people who participate in CRS live in Nashville. We completely sell out the Renaissance Hotel plus large blocks of rooms at the Hilton Suites and other hotels. Restaurants, bars and production people are also involved city-wide. We’ve been bringing business to the city of Nashville for 45 years. I would love to find a better way to break this out.
NEKST: Can you tell us about 2014 advance attendance?
Bill Mayne: We’re about 150 people ahead of last year (1/27). In the 4.5 years I’ve been here, we are up 47% from year one. When I arrived, CRS was mostly built on fees paid by the registrants and we’d sell a few sponsorships to make up any shortfall. We were in a double digit death spiral so I flip-flopped the business model to get in step with the rest of the world. The board backed me 150%. Today the rates are the lowest they’ve been in 20 years thanks to so many generous corporate sponsorships. Companies don’t pay to send their people to educational seminars like they used to. The good news is that there’s magic in the cool-aid we make at CRS. And we feel a deep responsibility to make it as affordable as possible for all the people who pay their own ticket and/or take vacation time to be with us.
NEKST: How would you describe the state of country music today?
Bill Mayne: As a genre and radio format we’re doing great. Country is today’s mass appeal Top 40 for adults. I believe we’ve survived precisely because we haven’t fragmented ourselves. I spoke at a Gavin convention years ago in the jazz format room. Jazz had fragmented itself into different channels and cut its pie into so many thin slices they couldn’t support life. Country has avoided that pitfall and I pray we continue to do so. Our diversity bodes well for a healthy future.