An Interview with Bruce Walden- General Manager at Waterloo Media [VIDEO]
Charlie Cadbury and Norbert Horvath sit down with Bruce Walden, General Manager at Waterloo Media, and discuss his career in radio and his role as General Manager at Waterloo Media.
Speakers: Charlie Cadbury, CEO, Say It Now; Norbert Horvath, CTO, Say It Now, Bruce Walden, General Manager, Waterloo Media.
Read the transcript here:
Charlie Cadbury 0:12
Today we’re here at Waterloo media with Bruce Walden obviously Norwich here as well and be great if we can get from you a bit of an introduction into Western media.
Bruce Walden 0:22
Okay, well, we’re locally owned here in Austin. I’ve been in the market for 40 something years. We have eight different brands. So we’re extensive we used to the little bit of history. We used to be on by the Johnson family Lady Bird Johnson started one of our stations, that’s where the call letters K LBJ come from LBJ. Actually, that’s is Lady Bird Johnson, it even though it is Lyndon Baines Johnson, you also says a little bit of history. We do your full service, we focus on broadcasting, we do a lot of events here, we do one called blues on the green, that’s a big community event. We do all the other things that broadcasters are doing, doing, you know, digital ad sales, and a lot of social media and things like that. But we’ve been here for a long time. And we have seen a lot of the transition being here in this building for 35 years, I’ve seen the group girlfriend, two to eight different brands, and we have a few streaming brands too. So that’s kind of a nutshell what we are in our focus is Austin, and helping the community. That’s what we really like to do. Amazing. And yourself, you know, what, where have you come from? And what what’s your role? Well, I was born in Hobbs, New Mexico, but only lived there for one year. So I don’t remember that my parents had moved to the Gulf Coast. And then I really grew up near Houston, and went to high school and all that. And I was in music because I sang and I played drums and did some stuff like that. So that’s kind of where that probably is what nudged me toward radio. And then my sister went to the University of Texas here. And I went to I came here, we went to Barton Springs, and it Barton Springs back then, not everyone wore all their clothes. And I was in high school, I’m like, I’m going to college there. So I moved here, and I go to college in 1979. And like a lot of people, then Austin was a really different town then. And I was able to stay, and I got a job in radio. And then that’s, that’s how I stayed. You know, I was just kind of lucky my I was going to, because I was kind of a amateur musician, I was never, you know, that serious. My idea was to work in a recording studio, because I’m fascinated with audio and all that kind of stuff. And I thought I’m gonna learn audio recording. And then while I’m working there at the, you know, at night or on weekends, I’m gonna use the studio, I’m gonna make an album, and I’m gonna become famous, I’m gonna be a rockstar.
And I’ve never even worked in a recording studio, because I figured it out. And then I decided I’m going to work in radio, because the first time I walked in, walked in a radio station, I was just like, This is awesome. And then next thing I know, I was a part time disc jockey on the air, never been on the air before. And then that’s how my career started.
So mostly radio voice,
by radio. That’s why I’m not on the air anymore. Yeah, I did that for a couple of years, just part time, and I didn’t really like it. And then I moved into marketing and promotions, and then just sales, and then eventually into management and all that. And I really, after a long time, I realised I was not in the performance side of it. I really was in the business side. And then later on, I decided I’m in the people building business. And that’s kind of where I’m now I’m in it because I love people and helping develop people.
Charlie Cadbury 3:35
And if and if the people are outside in the office, what would they describe is what you do on a day to day basis.
Bruce Walden 3:42
Outside of the office, where those people are sitting around at they’re sitting, I would say that, you know, I built our strategy, I helped put the pieces in place. I’m a problem solver, I help them. You know, because we have different departments like any video or marketing or media team would have. I’m kind of the consultant and help push things along. I will say, you know, my partner’s really not my partner, Bob Sinclair, who’s one of our owners, he’s here and he’s active. And he’s very, he’s very hands on we work hand in hand on stuff. So I basically execute a lot of things. And strategically we work on that. And he you know, this is a happy hobby for him. He really likes tinkering with the stations and what songs and what formats and what personalities. He loves doing that and he loves the technical aspects as far as, you know, where our signals and all of that because there’s a whole, you know, the whole business into itself, the technical and so we worked together on it, but I basically execute the sales and operations of our facility.
And that’s the that the official answer. Once you actually get to do on a day to day basis was a typical day look like for you.
I spent a decent amount of time working with Bob and talking to Bob our owner again about what we’re doing and you know new things, but what I would say what I try to do is help people be better at what they do. So I like to look at myself almost as a career coach, but I’m like in house, I have to run the organisation, we have cash flow, we have this, we have to market we, we do all that. But I do that so I can work with people and help. That’s where I get satisfaction. And I think that I’m skilled at it, and I can’t not do it. If I hung out with YouTube long enough, we’d be talking about how it can help y’all get better. So I want to do that before we do that.
So can you roll with the strategy? Worst intersect to innovation and technology of of the office here? And and the network itself
would rephrase that? What would you say the intersect the intersect
is in as you are running the strategy of this network? Where do you see the relevance of technology and innovation? And how do you execute against that?
Well, okay, that’s very interesting question. Because the whole landscape of media is changing so fast, there’s so many things. And audio is being delivered in so many different ways. If you go back 20 years, and you’ve watched the evolution of that, or you go back 50 years, even it’s done that, and everything that comes out, has been the death of radio, which is included TV, which is included satellite, which is included streaming audio, which would be Pandora, or Spotify or any other number of things. So I don’t know if I know how to say answer that exactly. Here’s what I do know, I do know that people like to talk to each other and communicate, and really audio distribution is just that our ears are tuned to best hear the spoken word. In fact, if you know what Dolby Noise Reduction, these kinds of things are, those are done. So we can hear the music better than those are all done decades ago. So anything that you know, helps people communicate, which is what we do. works. So the distribution then of all of that content, it changes and is Lam probably getting ahead a little bit. But as long as we can continue to distribute and create great content, regardless of the platform it’s on. And that has definitely changed. Because there’s a lot you know, we stream our audio, we have podcasts, we there’s a lot of things that we do that we weren’t doing 30 years ago, and we’re doing now and 20 or 15, or whatever years from now, we’re going to be doing that again, I don’t know exactly what those are. If I did, I’d be very wealthy because I could invest in those technologies. I don’t know if I answered
your perfect, perfect answer. Because the follow up question to that is, how did your relationship with your audience change? Over the years as you’re exploring these different channels? And or merging them? How did that change?
Well, it used to be I mean, we were still a broadcast medium. But it because there have been so many more frequencies, we’re just talking about terrestrial radio. Now, there’s a lot more frequencies than there used to be. And we could get into the weeds on that. But there just are. And so we’re able to serve in segment and you know, a lot more narrow and, you know, fragment formats. And so that’s different. Certainly having, you know, all the streaming capabilities, you can have streaming on the only radio stations, and then you can, you know, HD that whenever that started, you could have HD channels, which then you can rebroadcast on translators, which was kind of a sneaky way that people was able to bring new new signals into the market. So I guess, you know, the main thing is it. The diversification of programming, and content is just so much broader. There’s so much more of it. And then you start adding, you know, different streaming and podcasting, and all these different once again, it’s just the sky’s the limit. It’s good, and it’s bad. The problem is you have so much of it. How do you direct people to it, you have too many options. You know, there’s so many podcasts, there’s so many streaming audio stations out there. How does somebody that lives in Cincinnati or wherever find out about that and listen to it? Right? That’s so that’s why we double down on this local market, because that’s what we’re really we’re not necessarily we’re fine to reach other markets and go outside of this market. And you can certainly do that. But we’re all about the Austin Central Texas market. And that’s what we double down on
Charlie Cadbury 9:16
and how and how do you kind of create a dialogue with your, with your, with your audience, you know, is there other ways you can listen to see what what they want to hear? And what’s landing? Do you kind of open up the social side? What do you do for an engagement?
Bruce Walden 9:27
Yeah, so I mean, we do a lot of radio stations do a lot of research to find out what the local tastes are. I mean, you can do a one way you can get into an Uber and talk to your Uber driver. That’s one way to do it. And you do that enough, you get a good feel of it. You can hire research companies and they do very sophisticated, scientific based, you know, research you can find out that way you can do as simply as monitoring what other radio stations are doing across the country. Now that’s not specific to us. But then we can research based on that and then see is does that work here? Once again, I told you that we do a lot of musical events and concerts, and we see what is trending in the market we have for a while, so we can see what people are going to and what they’re not going to. And because again, we have such a diverse portfolio of stations, we can see this in many different areas. So it’s a combination. And then part of it’s just, it’s, it’s an art, you know, it’s just, it’s a feel part of it is very scientific part of it’s just feel, and we might decide to leave aside, hey, you know, some of my friends are listening to these artists, or this style, or my son or his kids, which is really a better way to do it. And you just start trying things, which that I think in our industry, we need to do more of, but it’s hard to do that, because when you start it’s slow, and it takes a while to get
there. And and so the differentiation of how national radio, does this versus local radio dusters. How would you describe that difference?
Charlie Cadbury 10:54
Yeah, well, I mean, there are some really big broadcasters and you can go town to town, and what they’re doing in each market is very similar. And that works. And it works very well for them. And they’re able to sell that almost as a broad network across. That’s not really how they do it. But sort of like that, we’re able to fine tune I was at an event last night, and it was very Austin oriented and the type of people that the music that they want to hear. And some of the music they were playing at this event was very local and very Austin, and somebody in Cleveland, Ohio, or in Los Angeles or Seattle or wherever, they wouldn’t know that. And so we’re able to zero in in that in on that. And we have a lot of heritage in this building of I mean, we do local music shows we have local bands on we do. We have a little later I’ll show you a we have a performance studio, where we have local bands, national bands, and they play here. And we’ve been doing this for decades. We’ve had local shows here forever. So that’s the difference is it’s just a business model difference. And they have their role and we have ours and they can’t do a we do but we can’t do what they do. Yeah, works out pretty well.
And we’re looking a little bit about the advertising and kind of advertising best practices. Now. One question we’re asking is, can you remember the first radio ads that you maybe you ever heard, or maybe one that you still remember today? That was a long time ago?
You know, I have I cannot tell you. The first one I heard one that stands out is the Motel Six commercial, which was Tombow debt, we’ll leave the light on for you. And they were very simple. In fact, if you first of all, if you’ve ever heard that before, but they’re very simple now almost sound like an amateur is doing it. But they were so memorable. And they were consistent. I do remember that. But that wasn’t really that long ago. I mean, I’ll say 25 years ago, but when I was a child, I grew up in Houston. And it was I don’t remember a commercial I remember I listened to Cat ki LT 6:10am Which am is what we listened to back then we didn’t really FM was not you know that big. And I would listen to their morning show Hudson inherited, and they had benchmark like they’d have these characters that would appear and they would appear at a certain time. And when I was getting ready to go to school, I was in elementary school. This is how young I was. And I knew that when this character called Seymour broom, what I think when he was on, I had better, you know, have brushed my teeth and done this. So I can go out the door. It was like clockwork. And so I was ingrained in that and I grew and I was just grew up listening to that. There’s an old radio saying that, I think is interesting that people don’t listen to the radio, they bathe in it. I mean, we’ve been saying this for decades. And it’s true. So I was bathing I didn’t even know I was listening to it was just part of what I did every morning. So that’s not a specific ad. Because I honestly can’t remember a specific ad. Because I wasn’t really probably eight years old. I wasn’t a consumer. I was more about getting the what was funny
was was it was it was just kind of trying to distil kind of best practice and it seems like for the insight there might be frequency right you know, you know, it’s something that becomes you know, a regular part of your life and you know, other other other people have kind of talked about kind of engagement interaction you know that they have something they remember that they would either sing along to or tell someone else about and you know, we’ve you know, we work in the world of smart speakers and allowing people to talk back to these ads. What’s What’s your view on this whole, you know, Rise of smart speakers and voice and where does that sits within your worldview?
Well, okay, my review my personal view is I don’t want I don’t want devices in my house listening to me, I’m one of those paranoid kind of people. But I do think it’s good because it’s everything that’s more convenient is good, none of that anywhere. You can go way back garage door opener, that’s that’s real simple, but the interaction between Alexa or any device like that and having that interaction you can do you know, eat from radio to any programme you have, you can programme it to where it’s going to play what you want. I think it’s a great thing. Because some people really love it and some people don’t some people I know they still get Every morning, and they turn on the radio, and they still do that some people’s houses are fully connected, and they can turn their lights on. Some people will never do that. And that’s how that will be. So I’m not scared of that. I think it’s awesome. And it’s going to continue to just grow and change, and there’s gonna be new opportunities. I am a little still a little bit concerned about devices that can hear what we’re doing. And, you know, not that there’s something, something illegal going on in your house, but just this, you know, that you can be monitored. And that’s a big paranoid paranoia by some people. Some people like it didn’t matter. But they’re monitoring everything you’re doing online, too. So
what is something to say? Is it as if it’s a concern that we never met many people bubble up, and what we’re excited about is the way that you know, you can actually see, give people the ability to then engage, and then I able to, from an advertising perspective, kind of track that and see, you know, you get this these extra new data points and understanding about what people are doing and run
that, yes. From that level. It’s, it’s fantastic for marketers, because you can really track what everybody’s doing, what they’re listening to what their spending habits are. And that’s going in all kinds of different directions, and has been for really the last 10 years or something a lot. This has been going on the background. A lot of people aren’t that aware of Ms. Who used to own us, they had a, they had next radio, which was big into that which does not exist now. But they were trying to develop a new platform listening. And that’s exactly what it did. Very similar. But you know what, all of these things, they add conveniences. They add accountability to listening, they, they’re trackable, so that helps marketing and companies be more effective. Those are all good things. When you’re in those categories. Yeah, there are, there’s some drawbacks. There’s drawbacks to all of these things. But probably the good is better than the bad.
Bruce Walden 16:56
Right? That’s a broadcaster? Would you rely on that information to understand your audience better? Would you actually engage in analysing and understanding the audience better?
Charlie Cadbury 17:06
Anything we can do to understand our audience is good for us. So any of that data we can get? We would look at. So there’s no question and Nielsen ratings. While there are some drawbacks to that with that technology, how they get that they continue to expand their capabilities, and they help us a lot. And again, there’s, there’s other resources we have, so anything like that is good, it’s good for all, you know, we mark it to help marketers is what we do. And so anything that’s good for Home Depot or for Target or anybody is good for us, because it helps us understand where the consumers are, how to drive our products, that’s just going to help our advertisers do the same thing.
Bruce Walden 17:49
It does one we work with local advertisers directly.
Charlie Cadbury 17:53
Yes. In fact, that’s probably what we most focus on. Some of the larger broadcasters, they work more on the national level, we don’t have the footprint, like we’re not in 50 markets, or however many were, you know, basically in this market, our owners in another market. So our focus is here, it’s being having great relationships with local owners being able to do custom solutions, as opposed to maybe generic solutions, being able to tie in to local events are you know, I’ve been here at this company, 35 years, we have salespeople and on air, people that have been here, similar amount of time. Those are deep relationships with business owners. So that’s a huge focus. And it’s honestly it’s our advantage in the market. And we compete on the national level level, just not in the same way that larger broadcasters, do. We still do it.
Now. You know, you’ve been here for 35 years, and we’re you know what, we’re looking forward and champion the future of this industry. Right. If we’re looking forward to the next 35 years, if there, if there was some advice that you could give to someone who’s just finishing college and wants to get into this industry, what would you advise them to do? If they were joining today?
Well, one, I can tell you, I have loved this industry. And there’s one thing when we hire people I say one thing I’ll tell you that is true. Is this it’s going to change. Yeah. So if you’re scared of change, don’t and if you’re scared of change, you need to get over that because I don’t care what industry you’re in, but especially this one so I love that it changes is a one make sure that you have the stomach for that because it will change. I would just say find something that you really love and then go go start. We have people who start here and they they go hang banners at events or they go help with that. And then they end up on the air being marketing directors or salespeople, sales managers, this all evolves. I would just say get in and get going and start learning about it and you’ll find the place because that’s what I did. I started as a part time disc jockey with no intention of doing that my life and master working in marketing and sales. I had no I didn’t want to be in sales who wanted to be in sales. sounds gross, and eyebrows, okay. It’s not what I thought it was. So that’s what I would say, is find something you like, especially when you’re young. And some of these, you know, makes you tick, and you just go do it and figure it out. Bessette, which, I mean, not everybody can do that. But that’s what I say, No, that’s
a good, good Colonel to coach him. Yeah, we
were talking earlier, do something that you know, everyday puts a smile on your face, because we’re only here for however many years we’re here. And if every day is the slog to work and you can’t stand who you’re working with, and what you’re doing, well go do something else. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth any amount of money.
That’s brilliant. Now, for anyone who’d like to get a little bit of a taste of what you do at Waterloo, where should they find you? Where Where should they listen? What would you be listened to on
the way home? Well, a few. Bob FM, which is one of the 3.5k BPA FM, that is a really eclectic eclectic station we’ve had for quite some years now. But you can it’s a, we call it a train wreck in our business, you’ll hear one song and then the song next to it doesn’t go with it. But then the next song may not go with that. So, but they’re all generally hits. It’s familiar music, or at least for people, you know, that listen to popular music throughout their life. It is geared toward a slightly older, you know, say a 45 year old or something. But that’s an interesting station just because of the diversity of the music. ACL radio, which is also known as K GSR that’s been here a long time, very community is more so the way it’s tied to the community. It’s I want to say it’s cutting edge in music, but it’s newer and what it does, and our air personalities are, have been here for a long time. They’re very dialled in to the music. So that’s a little bit more like that. I mean, I’ll mention one that’s not ours, K, u TX. That’s not noncommercial here. I think it’s very, in the same vein as ACO radio, it’s very eclectic, and what it does, and there’s a lot of people that work over there that are friends of mine that used to work here in the old days. So I’ll tip my hat to them, they’re done a good job,
Bruce Walden 22:06
by the time sounds familiar, I think I’ve heard of that in other markets to syndicate that out.
Charlie Cadbury 22:11
We don’t, we have one in Norfolk. And when that first started, Jack FM, I think was the first one and it was out of Canada. And then it came in to the United States. And then we we did Bob, just because I think at that time, Jack was indicators that we did, Bob, our owner’s name is Bob and that kind of tied together. And then we had a consultant working with us that was working in other markets. It was you know, they were doing Bob in another other markets, but it wasn’t really ours, so to speak. There’s a there was a loose association. And there’s still some other Bob formats out there. But this has been one of the most, I guess, popular successful ones in the nation. And it’s still, typically I want to say we’re number one, but it’s typically top three, or while even in this market, it’s usually ranked one or two, almost all the time. It is it’s that diversity of programming, it’s hard to replicate it.
Now I’d like grep, and I really liked the way that you named a station that wasn’t yours. It’s it kind of shows the authenticity and kind of the roots and foundations of your kind of community business. That’s, that’s really nice.
So they are very tied to the community too. In fact, that was at an event last night, and they were there and they did a great job. And they really reflect the Austin I call the Austin vibe, which is really from 30 years ago. But they you know, they do that. All of our brands do that to some degree. You know, we have two Spanish language stations. One that plays from interior Mexico, you know, that music, and the following on that is super passionate. And like, it’s that station does really well too. And that’s a it’s a whole different ballgame over here that we’re doing. But because of the Hispanic makeup in the population, it does well and that that segment is doing nothing but growing. And I think we’re serving it well and ever since has come on. It’s been one of the top radio stations. And so
I think lovely. Well, thanks so much for carving out some time in your day to talk to us. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.
Yeah, well, nice meeting. You too. Thank you