COUNTRY – MMI – PROFILE
JOHN SHOMBY INTEL
- You’ve worked for many of the largest radio chains in America in executive programming positions, most recently Cumulus. Now, you’ve chosen to launch your own company. What are the fundamental differences between corporate life and an independent entrepreneurial model?
First of all, more sleep…….:). The one thing I noticed right away was that EVERYTHING was up to me. Everything!!! That sounds pressure-packed but it made me actually more relaxed. I didn’t have scheduled zoom or conference calls. I didn’t have music to schedule for several shows and stations. I didn’t have a staff to motivate (which I do miss). I had one person to motivate and create time for – ME!…and that’s never been a problem, so I was ready!
Once I got past that, which wasn’t very long, I got down to business. I have a brother who’s been an entrepreneur (and now consults them) for over 30 years so I called on his experience to help with this new mode. One thing he said that did stick – “You may not make money every day. As a matter of fact, MOST days you don’t, but make sure you do something for your business to move forward each day”. I have lived that daily, for sure.
One final thing – the stress of the corporate atmosphere is real. It’s nothing negative. It just is what it is. Tiers of management……reports to do…..conference call, etc. That was all gone and I will say, and I can prove this with real numbers – my blood pressure has dropped close to 20 points in the past 6 months!! It’s been a mind-clearing experience, for sure.
- You’ve programmed every format from Country to Top40 to News Talk. Looking forward, which formats do you see as “growth opportunities” and why?
Not trying to be a “homer” but I really see a lot of light for the country format. The music has really spread out in both directions and the younger audience is embracing it. The emergence of Luke Combs, Kane Brown and Maren Morris prove that. Just this week 6 new artists in the top 10.
Spoken word has some tremendous opportunities with so many ways to marry terrestrial with podcasts. It’s just so natural and makes so much sense. I see the younger millennial and Gen-X age groups as prime targets. We need some programmers to REALLY think out of the box here. Politics should not be the base. Look at the success of some trailblazing podcasts and head in that direction. May not even be talk radio as we know it. I see a contemporary version of the old radio mysteries coming back but more based in reality. Think Dateline and 48 Hours on the radio as part of this.
- You have found an interesting niche with connecting Country artist’s with radio and consumers. How does that work?
It’s very much connecting new country artists with all of the radio station – the chain of command, how various companies are set up for that station and all about creating and nurturing the relationship with the PD. We get into the music process from beginning to end with radio and all aspects of the radio interview. 3 90-minute sessions. Have had the opportunity to work with 4 artists with several labels so far and have more in the cue. I work with the labels and they set up artists who are preparing for their first radio tour.
It’s been a lot of fun and an amazing learning experience for me. May sound a bit cliché but it’s one small way of giving back all these years – and, of course, make a couple of bucks doing it.
- Historically, what stations influenced you the most? What current stations are your favorites?
My biggest radio station influence came from the station I grew up listening to in my hometown of Philadelphia – WFIL. One of the legendary top 40 stations of all time. I got to watch one of the all-time greats, George Michael, work his craft in the studio one night and that was enough for me. A lot of what I did as a programmer over the years had a little bit of the Famous 56 behind it. A big salute to heaven and Jay Cook – their legendary PD.
One of my favorite stations right now is KNCI n Sacramento. Joey Tack has that thing humming with creativity and real personality. In other formats, I have to put WCBS-FM in NYC in my hot rotation and here in Nashville, 104.5 The Zone is one heck of a sports station. They really reflect the hot topics in the sports world every day! I also have to single out another local one – Nash Icon 95.5(WSM-FM) – it’s a music machine but the music is the entertainment. Lots of great memories there.
- What will be the biggest changes radio will face in the future and how can your new venture address those changes?
Well, part of my new venture is working with stations and helping shape their culture. I see that as one of radio’s biggest challenges in the future. With COVID, we’ve learned that remote studios might actually be a good move for some and also could save some real estate money, if you know what I mean. Having to navigate all of that with a staff in several different places will be a priority (and is now).
As far as changes, I really think actual physical transmitters will be a thing of the past in the next 10 years. The technology has been taking us the streaming route for more than a few years and radio is a bit behind but will catch up. This will also affect our ratings system. The metrics to determine who is listening will be more immediate and, frankly, accurate – once radio makes the full move to streaming. I can’t wait to see who comes up with the best form of measurement.
The high debt of some of the larger companies, I think, will force them to divest of more properties thus creating an opportunity for smaller companies and entrepreneurs to enter adding more diversity and opportunity for the industry. It may seem like I’m dreaming but I can’t see these bigger organizations keeping that much debt in the future. My two cents.
With radio talent, the demand for companionship will still be there but at a different level. The lifestyle of the listener and the target audience will be of utmost importance along with how a personality relates the music to the audience. Nothing new there! Pop culture is a click away these days as are sports scores, breaking news, etc. Radio will have to become more PERSONAL with its presentation. Specialized shows and programming will have more interest than the past whether it be music-related or community-related.
With my new venture, I plan to work with programmers and talent and help them head in that direction and get away from the way it was always done. I also plan to find places to harvest talent and rebuild the farm system for larger markets.
Bottom-line, I’m one of those cheerleaders for radio. I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. We just can’t be afraid to head toward that light because it’s not what you think.
Published in Monday Morning Intel – 11/2/2020