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The Advantage of Radio with Bob Bellini

In this episode...

While there may not be a better platform for building brand product and event awareness, radio’s often overlooked in today’s misguided digital-first world.

In this episode, you’ll learn that if you want people in any market to know about your company, product or event, you must consider radio as a proven way to achieve your goals. I met a lot of great people in radio like today’s guest Bob Bellini.

Cale Guin: Radio is a marketing bootcamp. In radio, there’s always projects going on to promote the station and there’s even more projects going on to promote advertisers. While there may not be a better platform for building brand product and event awareness, radio’s often overlooked in today’s misguided digital first world.

I worked in radio for 12 years before starting my digital marketing and application and development company in 2002. Given that today’s marketing offerings are so wrongly lopsided toward digital, you might be surprised to hear that radio is where I learned to craft mostly digital marketing solutions to help advertisers reach their goals.

In this episode, you’ll learn that if you want people in any market to know about your company, product or event, you must consider radio as a proven way to achieve your goals. I met a lot of great people in radio like today’s guest Bob Bellini.

Bob started his decades long career in radio as an intern, and he spent time on the air and he became a force to be reckoned with as program director of WKLH in Milwaukee. In 2020, Bob was promoted to operations director, vice president, and general manager of the Milwaukee Radio Group.

The timing of this interview is interesting and because it had been rescheduled at least twice, and it ended up being just a few days after we recognized the 20 year anniversary of 9/11.

Both 9/11, and COVID have played such an important role in advertising shifts. This interview aimed to dig deeper into the power of radio and why it’s important in today’s marketing. Bob did not disappoint in that regard. Listen in as Bob answers my first question. Is it still as fun to work in radio as it was when I was there nearly 20 years ago?

Bob Bellini: I’m happy to say that, partially credit to our company Saga Communications, but a lot of that still goes on here and it has to because that’s what I’m sure we’ll get into a little bit today, but that’s what being local is all about. We’re actually joyful that we’re here in person as a team, as opposed to the empty hallways and the virtual everything that a lot of businesses sadly are forced to employ to conduct their business now, but we feel it was so important.

Even during the pandemic, we took some steps to offsite, those who could work offsite, thank you, technology. That was a lot of our sales team. As you know, in broadcasting, a lot of essential workers, and there wasn’t a day where the hallways were empty here.

We needed that. I’m glad we went through it with each other together to maintain some sense of sanity. I’d be sad if a lot of that went away and it’s still that way.

Cale: It’s funny that you say that because a lot of businesses had to pivot because of COVID and I tell people all the time, throwing your hands up in the air was just not a strategy, man. You just had to figure out, well, now, how do I get it done?

To your credit radio had to do that to a certain extent. Maybe not as much as, say, a restaurant or I don’t know, maybe like a clinic, a like a medical clinic or something like that. I mean, everybody and the people who did it, I think some of them did better during the pandemic, after having pivoted like that than they were doing before the pandemic.

I thought, man, that’s what’s– you don’t ever want a pandemic. Of course, there’s horrible things that occur there but it’s the learning and the growing from this shit can happen.

Bob: Well, we learned so many things and it really taught us the importance of our local direct relationships with our clients. First, we had the a shock of, Oh, my God, the phone’s ringing off the hook and everybody’s canceling their spots because businesses are closing, there’s lockdowns and everything else and revenue is flying out the door.

As concerning as that was, that was happening across virtually every industry. We weren’t alone in that. What was terrific as is that we became true local partners to our clients to help them.

It wasn’t just, “We’re calling to cancel our order.” It was, “Okay, what can I do for you with other avenues that we can help you communicate to your consumers or customer what’s going on with your business?” We did outreach. We did contests where we awarded free advertising for businesses.

We wanted to make sure that we reached out to our clients and just were there for them. Even if that’s just calling, “How are you, what’s going on? Are you still open? Are you going to make it through this? What can we do for you?”

We offered a lot of bonus advertising for those that needed it when they needed it, because that’s what our business was. That really illustrated what we’re here to do.

We are partners with our clients to help them solve problems. That really turned into a great strength for us as we have come forward into certainly a better economy than it was then.

Cale: Just circle back to our time together. We lived through 9/11 which we just– I don’t know if you can say celebrated but we just recognized the 20 year anniversary of. I will never forget a couple of things about being specifically in radio.

One, was when I came into work that day which I had worked late at night on someone’s computer, I wound up coming in later the next morning and all of our stations, which were music stations, were all news. There was no Bob and Brian on air. There was no Dave and Carole at the time. There was none of that and it was weird. It was really weird.

The other thing was, we were on a promotions call maybe a week or two after 9/11. I remember, I think it was Steve Goldstein who said– we were talking about how– we have all these trips that we’ve been giving away. Clearly, we’re not doing that. How do we start to transition back to normal? On that phone call, someone said, “Will we ever go back to normal?”

A credit to not just radio but everyone there, we did at some point in time return to a normal environment. Hopefully, the pandemic will work out the same way. You’ve touched on some great things that radio did. Talk a little bit about that time back then on September 11th and how brutal that was on all media probably but especially radio.

Bob: You know what, it reminds me of part of what I just said about learning how to adapt to something. As we recognized the 20th anniversary since 9/11, which is hard to believe for those of us who lived through it and watched it, a lot did change but not everything.

We came through those with a lot of lessons and improvements in all kinds of things. It was very difficult for us to navigate. What do we do now? This is going to change how we now communicate and present content and what our shows are all about.

I will tell you, Cale, that in a lot of regards, it was beneficial. Sadly, not in– we didn’t need that event to help us along but we changed. After we got through the news cycles and all of that, we suddenly– if you were the goofy banana phone zoo show, is that really appropriate? Does that resonate with people anymore?

It made us more authentic. It made us more real. We learned how to communicate differently. We learned how to present our product differently. It took time for that radio’s great sense of humor and the irreverence, to slowly return, which it did, but it did teach us to be human and to be real.

That is a great benefit because, after 9/11, nobody was thinking of I’m going to show of four hours of one-liner jokes and other stupid stuff that nobody really cares about and isn’t really talking to me as a person and how all these things that– all the other ramifications of 9/11 and how they affected our culture, all of those things that we had to navigate through. You couldn’t do it blowing slide whistles and telling jokes all day.

In the same way, the pandemic, it really taught us to– if you think you’re a “DJ” spinning records all day and you have a trouble with how do we talk about this, then there’s a problem. It helped us figure that out.

Not to throw anyone under the bus but I’ve worked with those air talent that were radio was a party. “Hey, man. I’m the night jock. We’re playing music and doing all of this.” When it came to dealing with something like a 9/11 or smaller but still serious issues, what am I– I don’t what to say. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t know what to say to my audience about it. It helped us mature is a good way to put it.

Cale: Let’s stay back in time a little bit. When digital started coming about back in the day, I know when I started my company I had a commercial that was running that was from Milwaukee to Milan and it’s this idea that back in the day, most small companies were looking at this as an opportunity to grow and to be regional or national, or perhaps even global. What I find interesting is you take that time back then and you look at today and everybody’s clamoring to be local again.

I wouldn’t even say it’s today. This has been going on for a while, but by the same token, radio play is a very integral part in that. I’d love to, man, if I could just sit down with radio stations and just preach to them that everybody wants this.

I know you know it to a degree, but there are companies that don’t think about something like radio for their advertising mix. When, in fact, it might be the exact right thing for them, it doesn’t fit into the world, a lot of people choosing this is my favorite thing, therefore, I want to advertise where I can see my ad and what have you, which I just think is the most ridiculous thing in the world.

Talk to little bit about that transition from everything seeming to like digital probably almost seemed scary back in the day. Now, in a weird way, this bringing everything back to local, how’s that played into your hands, and how are you guys taking advantage of that or making opportunity out of it?

Bob: Well, the first thing I say about local is trust. Even when you watch very highly-produced TV ads or TV presentations that are slick and glossy from huge companies, that element of wanting to be local is there because, what’s the foundational attribute of local? It’s trust.

I know Dave Luczak, I know Bob and Brian. I know Andrea Williams or Craig Carson. I know these people because if they’re good, I have a relationship with them, a virtual relationship. If they’re telling me about a product or service that they have used or experienced, they’re an influencer, and I trust them more than an Instagram from the Kardashians.

Cale: You do?

Bob: I know, stupid me. When you look at those brands, really trying to hone it down into local, it comes down to that trust and authenticity and local is so important. Look, here’s another example of what the pandemic did to change things in a way for the better. The support local business just amplified to an extreme degree because of the pandemic.

Once all these businesses started closing, once you saw stories of the restaurant owner just crying because his business was destroyed, or he doesn’t know how he’s going to pay any workers he has left, or all of those things, support local really became a stronger, louder, more urgent campaign.

Radio with its localism, certainly, was here at the perfect spot in time at the perfect place to help those businesses. I would say that, the local vibe is something that big brands really want to tap into because they know that people are becoming more– well, think about, go through the list of things you hear, locally-sourced, are these groceries, are my vegetables, are these locally-sourced? Is this steak-

Cale: Words we didn’t even know.

Bob: -from a farm in Wisconsin? People want to know that now they don’t care if your oranges came in January from Mexico, people want to know where certain products are, and there were incidents that occurred in history and some more recent than others where things happened, and because of that, inability to source because things were so scattered throughout the country or the world that it became a concern.

I don’t know where that came from and you’re having trouble keeping up with your supply chain right. Now, let’s talk about, I just hit on supply chain. Oh, my gosh. There is another pandemic amplified problem that is going on because of global supply chains being totally crimped.

People are like, “If some of these supply chains were more local where they can be, we wouldn’t be having these problems,” or “If I frequent a shop that has local merchandise and local products and local service, that’s way better than having to wait on something that is somewhere in China unable to get to us.”

Cale: I will inject my own personal story. We ordered a patio table in April, won’t get it until November sometime and I’m like, “Can you just tell me where it is? I’ll go get it.” What is going on here?

Bob: What did they tell you when you first made the purchase?

Cale: It should be something around, I think they were saying mid-August. Then they as they updated it was like two weeks later, two weeks later, two weeks later, two weeks later, and we never even got close to the date.

Bob: I think they don’t know, because you know then it just got then you had the Suez Canal blockage, it’s one thing after another.

Cale: I don’t want to laugh at that, but yet, doesn’t it seem weird that the guy just screwed up? How did you– Didn’t anybody teach you to parallel park? It was just was a weird moment where this [unintelligible 00:15:53] wedged.


Bob: I know. Every day on the news, there’s that picture of that walking the whole canal, maybe we expand the canal a little bit.

Cale: [laughs] Right. For my money, one of the other amazing things about radio and this is one of the reasons why I don’t do video podcast is because I love the passive nature of it. The idea that I can be doing other things while the radio is on.

I know this isn’t in your family but one of my favorite things to this day is to listen to Euchre call a game. I can be doing other things and there’s just– It’s not even nostalgic, it’s just somewhat important that I can be doing other things while this is going on.

On top of that, I get then not just everything that’s going on to the world, but I also get my local news, whether in sports that I can’t get anywhere else, especially in a passive way.

Talk to me about do you guys take advantage of that? Do you think most radio, you guys included or do you think as an industry, that they use this enough to their advantage and that there’s enough attention being paid to that?

Bob: I think that there needs to be more attention paid to that activity, but I think we’re always being made aware of consumer human behavior studies. It goes just beyond basic tip of the iceberg stuff, demographics, listening patterns, viewing patterns, et cetera, into human behavior.

Going back to the local thing, radio, outside of digital, has something that digital doesn’t have and that’s immediate passive local penetration. When I’m in the car, believe it or not, radio still dominates in-car listening. Yes, there are the interfaces, the competition field is wider and bigger and there’s the pure plays and everything.

A lot of times at commute times or in the morning, you want to be entertained, you want to laugh, you want to listen to Dave, or Bob and Brian or Andrea, or whomever and you’re not going to get that on Pandora or Spotify or whatever. Satellite radio is there but again, it’s not local and the percentages have shown slight growth for satellite radio, but it’s nowhere near the penetration and the consumption of local radio because you can hear all of those things in any way, shape, or form. It’s proven.

The studies continue to show that radio especially at drive times, drives consumer foot traffic into stores. It also drives online search traffic. There’s a favor we’re doing in the digital space because if you hear a spot or maybe a conversation, somebody is talking about the pizza they had last night, and that gets on your mind and maybe later on when you have time you’ll search for best pizza in Milwaukee or whatever you do, driven by something you hear from radio.

That’s a very, very great attribute that radio even by itself has over pure digital, because we have the combination. We have digital, but unlike pure digital, we have the terrestrial signal of core radio to drive traffic years and eyeballs to online platforms, text clubs, SEO, everything that we offer our clients in the digital space that we can drive them to through traditional radio.

Cale: It almost brings a tear to my eye to hear you say things like SEO and things that I, of course, those were on my radar back in the day and to hear radio progressed to this area and radio is, by the way, in fact, very, very good for digital companies. It is an excellent way to drive traffic.

The other thing that you talked about that I think is important is, does radio still relies specifically– I know there’s talk radio and what have you, but there is still– especially US stations, locally, you have some music stations and one religion station, a Christian radio, is that– is there music on that station as well I don’t recall?

Bob: Infrequently.

Cale: In music, is there still some element in which you’re trying to be the music choice for people or are you aware of the fact– are you really just cognizant as you go through your day that there’s a billion other solutions for that, that have no commercials that, “I can listen to what I want in a different mix and all that kind of thing”?

Bob: Well, here’s why music and traditional radio is still so important to music presentation. If you notice, the four music stations we have are Gold stations. We were current for a while with Energy.

One of the things we realize there was that, as you know, there are life cycles to formats, top 40 was just decimated by the pandemic. It wasn’t the music people wanted to hear. We realize that this is not going to portend well for our future.

Whether you watch ads on TV, going back there again, and always hearing a soundtrack of a song that is hugely popular and classic, they do that for a reason because of its familiarity. I will tell you this, we’re in a different business of music now.

Whereas the pure-play or Pandora, or whatever online music platform you choose, still might now begin to be the home of music, search, or discovery. We are in the business of presenting that product when they become high demand, high appeal hits, not Pandora, not Spotify.

People are coming to our radio stations because they love those songs and they want to hear them. They want to hear them a lot. They’re big hits. They’re familiar and they love them. Some of this music is just impervious to burn our fatigue.

You hear that old thing about, “The music I grew up with.” We just launched a pure oldies channel in April, April 1, and Cale, the response has been just overwhelmingly not just in numbers, but overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

The emails I’m getting, are people just over the top with joy and it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I can hear this music again.” It’s not just music for the elderly at a nursing home. As we tell people, “This is music you hear at weddings.” This is music that the 35-year-old guy is telling me, “You know my dad raised me on this music. I love hearing these songs.”

What a better time in our history than after the gloom of the pandemic, and the lockdowns, and isolation, to hear some of these really fun, up-tempo songs from a different era. The response has been terrific.

Yes, maybe not so much music discovery, but playing those hits that people love and want to consume– by the way, doing it with a sense of adventure and personality, stationarity, mixing things up.

I’ve got pure-plays. I’ve got my own music library, and I noticed that sometimes it gets kind of boring. There’s no interplay. You can do all kinds of things but it’s just– I like a little bit of that, “I’m not in control,” sense of adventure and that’s what radio does.

Cale: What’s a guilty pleasure on one of your playlists? The most embarrassing one, please.

Bob: God, the most embarrassing one. Oh, boy, there’s got to be embarrassing ones in there. There might be a [crosstalk] song or two. I don’t know. Everybody says it’s embarrassing. They were good. It was good pop music for what it was.

Cale: Yes. It all evokes– to your point, it evokes emotions and puts you in a place, and then when you associate– let’s get into this next part. When you associate that with the brands that are interacting with your stations, it matters.

It not only matters in who the demographic is that would be listening to that type of music, but it also matters that they’re being affiliated with that feeling and that emotion. You know what? I’m just going to get a little off-topic here because one of my favorite things back in the day was being in a promotion meeting and trying to figure out a way to get an advertiser, some sort of engagement or interaction with the station that wasn’t on the air. It was one of my favorite things that I got to do was, “Let’s figure out a way to do something online for them. Let’s figure out a way.”

It drove my whole subsequent career, was that I loved being able to do that creative thing. Like how can we get in front of these people in ways that people aren’t getting in front of people?

Tell me about what are the options and what are you doing nowadays to supply something other than just running a scheduled ad run?

Bob: Well, but it’s not all that new and it’s something we have done for quite some time and so that’s why now, in fact, we’re in the season where we’re starting to do our budgets. There are revenue streams called NTR or nontraditional revenue. There is non-spot revenue is stream. There are all kinds of things and these include events and digital platforms.

Let me give you a couple of examples. We decided to do something that takes advantage of our personalities in a unique way. I’ll give you one example, one or two. Mandy, who does the afternoon show with Borna on 102.9 The Hog, is a person who just loves to go out bars, restaurants, try products, try things. She’ll do anything. It’s just a lot of fun.

We came up with this concept of Mandy does stuff. What we do is we get a client involved and we take Mandy to, let’s say, it’s a bar, or no, we had a good one. I think it was with either a Usinger’s or a Rupena’s, a sausage-making company. She went there and we filmed the whole thing to learn how to make sausage and see how it’s done.

Well, then we have this video. We turn it into this well-edited consumable online video presentation with the client all over it, because we’re at the client location. Then we use the power of our terrestrial signal to drive viewership to the website and say, “Hey, Mandy does stuff. She was making sausage at Rupena’s and you can see what happened when she tried to grind the meat, so to speak.”

Then viewers will go to watch this because it’s silly, it’s funny. They want to see Mandy doing something other than hearing her on the radio. The client is thrilled because there’s a kind of a TV commercial on a radio website. That’s one tiny example.

Events that we do, like the Bob and Brian golf outing, the Bob and Brian Open. This is a huge event. We use our terrestrial, of course, to communicate with people about the event. A lot of that is through social media and online also, and text platforms.

Then the event itself is just a great, great opportunity for people who are fans of the show, or have heard the show, or maybe are going with a friend who’s a fan of the show, but don’t really know much about them and be exposed to what the Bob and Brian Show is all about and have a great day golfing and having a lot of fun. Of course, it generates revenue. Those are just two tiny examples of different kinds of things we do.

Then we have, of course, the more traditional things, the banner ads and things. I’m doing a first responders program for all of our stations now, whereby we play an interview with a first responder, but it all lives on every one of our station websites.

That’s something we wouldn’t have done a long time ago. We’re always trying to think of non-traditional ways to entertain listeners, do a favor for our clients and generate revenue.

Cale: You spoke about local a lot early on in the conversation. One of the things that I feel like from a digital perspective where my expertise started, as I got more into traditional, I get mad today by everybody just starting with digital. Everybody separates, “What are you doing for digital?”

I’m like, “No, this is all marketing. This is all how you promote your business. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or not. It just what’s the best way to do this.” Radio is in a unique position to do some digital things for customers that– I’m not sure, maybe they are aware of. For example, SEO relies heavily on backlinks. Backlinks are more important to accompany if it comes from a reliable, relevant, and authoritative resource like a radio station. That would have A, a lot of traffic, B, would be locally very relevant and would have that authority.

I think that there is some opportunity there and not just a banner ad that links back to a site but something more meaningful. You touched on something that I would love to work on radio with. That is local directories of local only businesses.

I can go there and just wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I can find something near me that’s just local that I know it’s locally owned. I know it’s locally operated and I’m not opposed to big national brands, I’m just saying that at some level, there are times when a meal at somewhere local supporting a local person just tastes better, even if it doesn’t really taste better.

Bob: Well, you hit on a great thing and that’s when again, going back to how can the pandemic amplify some of those needs. We knew that support local was more than an occasional buzzword or buzz phrase to throw out there. It became a necessity, it became a need, it became an action that we needed to undertake.

We still do that in a variety of ways. I agree with you, I think it can expand but we still have, on our websites, pages where we would do the support the local and just list services offered by various retail or restaurant outlets. They have curbside delivery, call here, whatever.

One of the things we do, for instance, we have a small business roll call on Jammin 98.3 that is really all about black-owned local businesses in the community. They get to be on and talk for 60 seconds about their business introduced by one of our Jammin personalities. They have a little conversation so it’s not a traditional commercial.

They get to talk about who they are, and why their business means so much to them. Those are the kinds of things that really are, again, local, but very community-focused and personal by engaging with a person, not just a storefront, not just a brand, not just a name, and a voiceover and spot. It’s a real person and those are the kinds of things I want to continue to do and expand upon.

Cale: Speaking of these different ways that people can work with radio, if somebody just calls you guys up, gets a meeting with some of your sales reps. What are the keys for success? If I want to advertise on radio right, what do I go to– what am I looking at?

Bob: Well, first of all, you have to have a really good media partner, who’s here with big ears to listen, that’s the first thing. There’s all kinds of selling and you know that in general, that term salesman or saleswoman or I’m in sales, still seems to have this slimy, scary, negative connotation, Oh, snake oil salesmen, whatever.

We are so far removed from that, but you have to work to remove yourself from that. You can’t knock on the door and show up and, “Hey, look at this. We’re having a special weekend in two weeks and if you sign right here,” that’s not how we do business.

There are opportunities like that when it works for someone but generally, that’s like, we already have an existing relationship and we’re having this feature weekend that would be perfect, I think for your business. If you want in on it, let me tell you about it.

We have to talk to and listen to the client. I want to know, tell me what some of your challenges are? What do you think people don’t come to your store or business? Why don’t they come if you think there are people that aren’t coming in, why? Why do you think they’re going to a competitor over you?

Tell me about who is your typical consumer? What are your best days? What are your best products? What are your most popular menu items? What day of the week would you like to help boost?

We have to get all this information and by the way, before we have that conversation, we’re going to do our own research and homework so that we can truly be there as a partner. Advertisers want to know that they have a partner. Don’t try to tell me everything about my business in the industry. That’s fine that you know that, but help me with what I need for my store in my local shop and then present me with options because, Cale, everybody has different needs and we have a toolbox of different options that would work differently for different clients depending upon their different challenges or needs.

That is really instrumental in making sure that whatever campaign is developed, be it a produced on air or spot campaign, a sponsorship of an event, a sponsorship of an initiative we’re doing online, banner ads, digital text platforms, and the like, it just depends and we try to individualize it, of course, for that particular business.

Cale: It reminds me back in the day, I almost did liken radio too, and they did this much more tastefully, but in a weird way, it was a little bit like NASCAR. There was a way for you to be involved in the station all over the place.

I would– this is– I’m not saying it was at the dawn of the internet, but it certainly was early on when websites were becoming like the place to go get information. It was early in that timeframe. Do you think that there’s anything coming down the pipe that is going to be integral for radio and the advertisers and consumers of radio in the next five years, let’s say?

Bob: There are different things we are exploring how far they go and how successful they become depends. Some of it are things like better-developing HD radio channels and you know that most local stations now have at least one HD radio channel with a different format or some kind of different content.

With automotive interfaces becoming more robust, that could be something whose time might after all these years, finally, becoming into maturation because of the improved technology. There was also what we call the RDS display so that when you are listening to a particular station, depending upon your vehicle and the make and the type of interface that is there, there’s artists information about the song and identification with the song.

You could also now put sponsor information on there that may be topical or relative to something that’s going on. Those are possibilities too, but I think radio’s continued need to develop talents must here talent is its most enduring and necessary legacy going forward for the future.

As much as I said about that music still does it for us and we still hold an important place, it just stands to reason that there’s still going to continue to be more and more boutiques, where you can find music. Different generations listen to music in different ways and bond with it differently than older generations did.

You have to adapt and change with that. I do know that it’s also for music station it’s what’s in between the songs and the talent that helps present the music, whether it’s a morning show that doesn’t play music or your talent during the day that plays it and is your companion and someone to be there for you.

We need that talent. We need to attract talent and have talent understand that, “I know there’s 18 billion podcasts and you want to start one and you think you’re going to reach a million people. It really doesn’t work that way.” There’s another tip of the iceberg of people that have widely heard and viewed audio or video podcasts, but in radio, we still have that kind of reach and frequency.

I want to ensure that kids coming up still understand that this is a fun, great way to entertain and I think that’s a big challenge for us. It may not be what’s coming down in the next five years in terms of new developments, but I still think that that is something we really need to keep our eye on.

Cale: I can’t even begin to tell you how endearing it is to hear you say that. It’s endearing to hear me as well, but it’s more than to hear you say that. The reason is, I remember when I came up in radio.

I came up while we had to splice tape in order to edit. It wasn’t a year and we had digital audio. The overnights, every part of it was fun. The only reason I left was because it was very difficult at the time. I didn’t want to be a music radio, I probably didn’t want to stand on Milwaukee market for music radio, especially, and I wasn’t necessarily so conservative that I wanted to go and be on local conservative radio.

The whole sports talk thing was kind of in its infancy at the time. My last straw was just a funny side note, I had an interview with a radio group out of North Carolina. It might have been like Hurricane Adam at the time, was just about to bear down on them.

I talked to the program director there and I’m like, “Tell me about hurricanes because I’m not sure I want to move to a place where my home is going to get destroyed every couple of years.” He goes, “I’m not sure. I’ve only been here for three months. This is my first one.”

I gave up my search and I was done with being on air as far as radio is concerned. You talk about the podcast thing, it is very difficult. I’ve been doing this for about a year, but really didn’t get rolling until maybe six months ago.

It’ll be a couple more months, we’ll finally hit 1,000 listeners on any given month. It’s very difficult to break through, there are so many and given any topic. I’m in the top 25 Small Business Marketing Podcast.

Bob: That sounds [unintelligible 00:41:57] I guess.

Cale: It really does. I think that there is room for some creativity. I still love radio, I still love the value of radio from a commercial aspect. We’re working with a company right now and we’re working on a product that they have. I said, “Guys, you know what, this is perfect for radio. I think if you got on some male-oriented radio stations, I think this would be fantastic on there.”

There’s one guy in the room that’s just like, “Shouldn’t we be on Snapchat? Shouldn’t we be on TikTok?” It’s like, okay, clearly, we’re not understanding where the value comes from. It really does come from a person who is dialed into what they’re listening to at the moment.

TV doesn’t even have that. I think that the value of radio is sadly overlooked in a lot of cases for today’s marketing, most young companies wouldn’t even consider it yet. If they did, the impact on their business would be great.

Bob: We deal with that a lot. I mean, we will talk to agencies and you have a buyer comes in and the hot sexy thing, I’m 80% digital. A lot of times, they’re not sure, really, other than it sounds sexy, and it sounds new and avant-garde, but they’re not even sure of what it’s doing for their product.

If in fact you do follow the business movement in the digital sphere, as I’m sure you do, you know that a lot of huge companies, Procter & Gamble, for example, pulled back in a big way on a lot of their digital spend, because A, those metrics that purported to show you everything, were not really showing you all that much or as much as what was promised.

They weren’t sure that they were getting the return on investment that was promised or indicated that they would. There’s still some work to be done, because people want accurate measurements, they want to know that there is a true return on investment that I could see and touch and feel, and not have crazy numbers thrown at me, that mean nothing if it’s not moving product.

Cale: I just did a podcast episode on this very topic. The idea that I was in a meeting years ago with a client and we crushed the traffic to their website, and we were all like, “Look at how awesome. Look at all this traffic we drove to here.” The CEO is just leaning back in his chair going, “Yes, but my phone didn’t ring anymore, yes, but I didn’t sell more widgets.”

This is many years ago, but that was my moment to go, “Wow. Traffic, it doesn’t matter. They have to do something when they’re there.” Granted digital does have some aspect of some trans parent type of reporting, I guess you could say, but I always tell people a lot of those numbers don’t matter unless they’re connected to a sale or part of a sale or some part of the sales process that you can actually draw a direct line to it.

How does radio though how do they do that? Radio isn’t connected to some analytic that I can look at and say, “Oh, of the 10,000 people that heard my radio spot this week, this many people showed up at my store.” How do you do that?

Bob: Sometimes that is more evident than at other times, sometimes it’s not as tangible, it depends on the business. Now, if a client is looking to grow volume or save his business, increase his lunch traffic, or what have you, a well-thought-out campaign will most often be very successful in that when it’s highly targeted to a specific need.

Those are generally successful. For those that are just an awareness thing, here’s what people need to remember about the beauty of radio, in that when you talk about the passive listening and the exposure, online and digital, you have to take the time to go look for something or find something, and here we all have our devices and smartphones with us. You still need to make a decision to go find something.

Radio gets into your head by developing a brand awareness. That is extremely critical. Think about it, before you turn on the radio, what brand are you going to turn on? We have to have done a good job in encouraging you for that brand to be our brand.

Before you need a new furnace because yours just crapped out in January, who are you going to call? Panic at the moment or, “You know, I’ve heard so and so on and they have an easy-to-remember phone number. I could get ahold of them.” It’s all about maintaining that conscious consumer awareness.

We tell a lot of our automotive, “Well, I can’t be on right now because I have no inventory so there’s nothing on the lot. Why should I advertise?” Because it’s going to come back and because you need to maintain your brand awareness amongst the consumer base.

If it goes away, when something does come back, good luck because all those other ones will have a leg up ahead of you if they have that space up here. That is a very, very important key element and that’s what radio does through the magic of audio.

We can instill those seeds in our minds to help consumers make those choices and choose brands before they need it because they’ve already heard it in their head thanks to radio.

Cale: I don’t want to take up too much, I’m cognizant of your time and I don’t want to take too much, but you brought up some great points there. You’ve mentioned campaigns if they want to run a specific campaign.

In my experience, I know that radio will produce great ads for people basically at no charge. If you’re running some part of the campaign with radio, they’re going to produce that for you. Talk to me about what you guys do to play in that, whether it’s an agency or even somebody that’s got a homegrown, “I want to do this thing, and here’s what I think radio is going to play a part.”

How do you guys interact with the overall campaign aspect of someone’s efforts? Are you helping them develop campaigns, or are you just playing whatever role you play within the campaign?

Bob: I think it depends on who the advertiser is, who the agency is. A lot of times, the agency will outsource their production and we just get agency-produced content, but let’s say you come in, you own Cale’s Ice cream Shop .

You have no idea about the creative, you just want to generate awareness, and maybe you’re having a sale every Saturday night on banana splits or whatever the case may be, we are listening. You give us all this information, right? Here’s what I tell you first, people don’t buy products. They buy what a product does for them and how a product makes them feel.

We always start, now, typically, the old joke was there’s some joke out there, Cale, about how many program directors does it take to screw on a light bulb or something like that. Your typical campaign will sound like, “Hey, it’s Cale’s Ice cream Store. We have five different kinds of ice cream and when you come in on Saturdays, banana splits are always on sale. Find us at blah, blah, blah, blah national avenue.”

All this data, data, data, yes, that’s all fine. Save that for the actual end, but make me feel something emotional. Watch TV, or go on YouTube, and watch some of the campaigns that Apple does, that Microsoft or IBM have done. That Starbucks is done. You will see some amazing footage of campaigns that Apple doesn’t come on and say, “Here’s our iPhone, buy it. It’s on sale now,” they don’t do that.

It’s all about what it’s making you feel. It’s a belief system and trust. We believe in saving the planet. We believe in making your life convenient. Improving your quality of time with your family efficiency and all of those important emotional needs.

By the way, here’s a product that can help do it easier for you. Those are the approaches that work. When you come on, I’m going to talk about, or what do people talk about emotionally about ice cream? It’s a pleasure. It’s a taste treat. It’s something that hearkens back to my, “Oh, when I was a kid, I used to love that or the old ice cream.” Those are the kinds of, what are the feelings and emotions that a product elicits, then we’ll get to the product.

Cale: You guys help with that aspect of the ads as well?

Bob: Absolutely do. We try to, some clients are pretty– Some are more adamant with what they want to do and how they want to do it if say it than others. We will play that role and offer advisement, but at the end of the day, they want to be more involved and hands-on and how they craft a message, and they’re the owner and they have the right to do that.

We really try to partner and develop campaigns. Plus, this industry has many, many resources. We have super creative people in this building and I’m not bragging. It just is the truth. People that write great copy, but we have other resources too.

We have resources from operations and companies that focus on creating campaigns, creating jingles, if necessary, writing copy with ideas. They’ll have a host of, “Hey, here’s an idea. If you’re running a CBD store, here’s about 20 different campaigns that we produced as examples for a CBD client.”

Cale: Wow.

Bob: “Wow, great. Why don’t I play a couple of them for the client that I think he might, or she might like and see where it goes.” That’s pretty much how we do that now.

Cale: Bob, thank you so much for your time. If you want more information on Bob Bellini or the Milwaukee Radio Group, head to and check out the information on this episode.

Expert: Bob Bellini

Bob started his decades-long career in radio as an intern, spent time on the air, and became a force to be reckoned with as a Program Director. In 2020 Bob was promoted to Operations Director, Vice President, and General Manager of the Milwaukee Radio Group.

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