Last month Akron Public Schools AAA “The Summit” 91.3 WAPS Akron/90.7 WKTL Struthers/Youngstown OH launched a brand extension focused on local artists and musicians with a connection to the station’s Northeast Ohio base. Available on streaming platforms and WAPS-HD2, “The 330” named after the area code of the market is the perfect example of the types of ancillary products radio can launch to expand its digital reach. We discussed the debut with WAPS Program Director Brad Savage.
Savage joined WAPS/WKTL last Fall following an over two decade career in commercial radio. He’s worked on-air at defunct Alternative “Rev 105” and AAA “Cities 97” KTCZ Minneapolis and programmed in Columbia MO at Rock “100.1 The Buzz” KBBM, Alternative “Mad Radio 96.3” WMAD-FM Madison WI, AAA “107One” WQKL Ann Arbor and a decade at AAA “106.1 The Corner” WCNR Charlottesville VA.
After a career in commercial radio, what brought you to non-commercial radio and The Summit?
In the world of Music Discovery/AAA/Alt/Indie formats, many people I greatly respect and admire had been making similar into Noncomm-land. Most Noncomm music stations are doing great and growing, building audience, and taking smart cues from programmers who may have some commercial radio format structure, but also put the music on a pedestal and bask in the creative freedom that Noncomm allows. The strongest aspect of Noncomm stations is that they are focused on the product, people, and local essence. They’re the stations that are building smartly for where we’ll be in 3, 5, 10+ years. These stations areasking questions about the medium and future usage, as we move into a demographic era where radio hasn’t necessarily been their top, favorite option for music. They’re not kicking the can down the road for Wall Street; they’re trying to make must-listen programming that is intelligent and challenging, and indispensable.
What is The 330? How did it come about?
The 330 is our new 24/7 Local Music Channel. It is billed as “The Past, Present and Future of Northeast Ohio Music”. So we’re playing independent, local and unsigned artists from Akron-Canton-Cleveland-Youngstown… Plus a nod to the rich heritage of artists who have broken out of Ohio in the past 6 decades, across many genres. It’s sort of a grand experiment to mix Bobby Womack, The Pretenders, The Raspberries, NIN, The O’Jays and The Human Beinz alongside the local music scene today… Artists like The Black Keys, JD Eicher, The Juke Hounds, Red Sun Rising, Angie Haze Project and A-Minus. We’ll also touch on like-minded Columbus or greater Ohio artists who have seen national success, such as Elle King, Guided By Voices, Afghan Whigs, Walk The Moon, etc… The station came about because when I arrived here I was pretty taken aback by the quality of local music and the strong heritage of national acts to break out of Ohio. The Summit has always played local artists, and it’s among the strongest positive feedback we receive. So we decided to push that concept into a super-serve niche, and deliver a station offering that genre 24/7. Plus this is something that is a great image for the station, and has also perked up interest among city leaders, and those in the arts/music/cultural communities in our primary cities of Akron, Canton and Youngstown. It also gives us a nice first reach into Cleveland, where we’ve never “officially” marketed before. The station is primarily an Internet offering, but it is also heard on 91.3 WAPS-HD2 in Akron. (It is not heard on WKTL which is sadly not an HD signal.)
How does The Summit promote The 330 on-air/online?
We are running produced promos about every 60-90mins since launch on 4/22, along with mentions when we air local artists. It’s being branded as an additional way for us to support local music, now 24/7 in addition to Airplay on The Summit. The entire imaging campaign and message is built around being local and supporting local music. The330 is available via our main website, its own website (the330.net) and is also an option on our station-dedicated app.
As an HD sub channel and webcaster what has the early response to the station been?
The feedback has been great. The vast array of genres is a plus and not a turnoff. I love that Noncomm can try things like that. At its core, it’s still a AAA or Alt station but we go in a lot of different directions from there. I think there’s a natural curiosity among the most music-savvy listeners plus bands and their organic local fanbase and social media communities. If an unsigned local act on the club scene has a song in rotation seeing 30-35 spins a week (that’s more than top spins on The Summit) then that’s really something. And even some baby artists doing self-released demos might see 1-2 plays per day. I think it’s a fun way to zero-in on one of the top selling points of the main station and just try it! Additionally, we have several awesome college summer interns and we’re going to train them in being on-air on the station. Why not use it as a training ground of sorts? As long as we position it well, I think it can sort of be this renegade offshoot and edgy little brother to The Summit.
Has it reached preliminary listenership/donation/sponsorship goals?
We just came off significant growth in our recent Summit Fund Drive campaign, our most successful in history in fact! We simulcast the launch of The330 on Friday afternoon of the campaign, and really made local music and community involvement the focal point, especially that Friday finale day. And we have seen some new “charter members” come in specifically in support of The330. It’s bringing in some new ears and new curiosity. Additionally, we have a primary sponsor of the station, local business Wayside Furniture. And, it has given us a new narrative to share with local arts, music, and community/business leaders – and there’s nothing else like it. Some key leaders in the arts community are floored at the idea of a radio station devoted entirely to local music! The PR response is exciting! Some bands are more excited to be heard on 330 than even our main FM channel; interesting that to them it makes no difference that it’s a streaming/HD2 station only.
How can stations build out digital brand extensions that truly extend the primary station and not take away from it?
This is one of the main things that attracted me to coming to WAPS/WKTL. We also air KIDJAM! Radio (HD3/streaming) and Rock and Recovery (HD4/streaming). R&R is a very thoughtful station devoted to a wide AAA rock mix of music, plus messages of strength, positivity and encouragement for those afflicted with addiction issues, mental health and trauma. It also exists as a nightly specialty show on The Summit. These stations are programmed by respected programming veteran Garrett Hart (WAPL-WRQK-WXDX-WDVE) who oversees them full-time and also is heard at night on The Summit. I was drawn to this forward thinking platform, where The Summit is the “mothership” if you will, but we also have off-shoots in the areas of local arts/music, kids/family, and health/recovery. I think this is a model where the main brand can SuperServe a lot of areas and stand for a lot of things, and coincide nicely among them. I also think listeners are smart enough to understand our creative process and see the fun in having more than one program offering. We have a great, experienced team of people who get the mission and we all feel very fortunate to be here, doing creative programming and planning for the future… And watching from the sidelines as traditional radio tries to sort through some pretty magnificent struggles.
Is this the type of programming that can be easily duplicated across the country? What advice would you give to programmers and station managers looking to launch similar brand extensions?
Yes, and this is also one of the things that drew me to join WAPS. We believe our Rock and Recovery, KIDJAM! Radio and 330 brands are customizable for other markets or something that could be syndicated. Garrett Hart, GM Tommy Bruno & I are brainstorming on this concept frequently. With regard to The330, I am betting that in almost any city you could take the top independent local bands plus regional musical history and create a station. Thinking back to my previous stops in Charlottesville, Ann Arbor, Madison and Columbia MO, you definitely could in any of those cities. The quality of music from hard-working local bands everywhere (plus production quality) is so exciting; it’s a great time for music.
What’s next for The 330 and The Summit?
2016 is proving to be exciting for The Summit. We have recently become a Nielsen/BDS Monitored AAA Reporter, moving up from the Indicator panel. The330 opens many new opportunities for us, and is being so well received by musicians and local leaders. Rock and Recovery and KIDJAM! Radio are present at 100 community events annually. Plus our exciting “Music Alive” program continues. This is an on-air community campaign soliciting donations of used or even damaged musical instruments. We have them refurbished locally then donate the instruments to music programs in the Akron, Canton, Struthers and Youngstown city schools. We have a world class staff dedicated to so many projects and growth for the stations. I am happy to be here and excited to keep building The Summit + the affiliated channels and riding the wave of excitement for independent public radio stations nationally.