R.A.P. Interview: Casey Van Allen

JV: You said something that sounded a bit strange, something you told the salespeople about staying true the station’s rate card. I’ve always assumed that, for the most part, nobody’s on the rate card; everything’s negotiated, usually downward. Would you say your direction to keep the rate is rare in our business?
Casey: I don’t know if it’s rare or not, but I know it works. And I think you’re absolutely right — the whole “rate card adjustment theory” is what I call it. It came along first when we came up with NTR, and we started throwing in freebies with the schedule. Buy so many spots and I’ll give you your logo on our website and a click through. We started discounting ourselves. Then another radio station comes into your market and starts selling spots for $3.00. Well, the problem is that the consumer believes that all radio is worth $3.00 then. So for the salesman for the good radio station, they have to then sell an idea. It starts with an idea. The salesman has to sell himself, sell how radio works, and build a relationship, but not necessarily in that order.

That’s where the value of radio is done. The problem with a lot of radio stations is that they think, okay, spots are $3.00, and the whole market needs to readjust to $3.00. Well, that’s not the way it works. The way I do it is I value the radio station. I price out the radio station based upon the return on investment. So if a person spends $100.00 on my radio station, are they going to get that $100.00 back in new business? If they took that $100.00 and put it into a savings account, aren’t they going to get 5 percent on that money in interest? So if they’re spending $100.00, they need to get that money back plus in new sales. Now, if I value the radio station so that they don’t get that, then I’m pricing the radio station incorrectly.

You look at how many commercials it takes to get customers into your business and actually spend. Of course, my job is only to get customers in the front door. It’s the business’ job to close the deal. But if I can get people in the door, and I know how many commercials it takes on each station to do that, then I can price that. I price the value of the radio station to that return on investment.

Now a lot of radio stations don’t look at it that way. They say, “Well, I’m not quite as good as this radio station, and my sales team isn’t quite as good as that radio station and they can’t close the deal as well. So I better sell my radio station based on price. So, I’ll lower the cost of the spots so that I can get in on the buy.” The problem is that you get what you pay for. You always get what you pay for.

This is the terrible dichotomy that radio has found itself in. They keep lowering the cost of the spots, and they’re not making any money. And when the radio station doesn’t make any money, the radio station has to cut back its expenses. When it cuts back its expenses, it starts to fire people because it can no longer operate. Then what happens? Well, we play a few more records and take the disc jockeys off the air.

So you see the spiraling thing we’re going down in, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Managers, program people, they need to hold the rate. They need to believe in the product and the return on the investment that they provide the businesses that support their programming ideas. And thereby, they’re able to make a business. It’s very simple. It’s basic economics.

JV: You sound like the kind of owner that any kind of production person would want to work for. How are things different at your stations for your creative people because of your background?
Casey: Well, I think it’s just one word – understanding. That’s really what it’s all about. I feel the frustration when they’ve got too many spots to do and they feel overloaded, and when they feel like they are so overloaded that they’re compromising their talent. I don’t want anybody in this radio station, whether it’s talent or production people or anyone, to feel like they are so overloaded that they’re compromising their talent. Because you can never cheat yourself; and by cheating your talent, you’re cheating the radio station and everybody in it.

So, when I see the stress alarm go on in people, I try to pitch in and help out. I mean, from my experience, I can whip out 20 commercials pretty fast. I can read them, produce them, and get them done pretty quickly. Sometimes I feel like they get so stressed out that they need a break, too. So I just go in and help them out.

JV: So you still get your hands on the equipment?
Casey: Oh, yeah. And you know what? I love it when I can get into the production room and get away from the phones.

JV: Your voice, by the way, sounds better than ever. Have you continued to do things with it other than the occasional helping out in production, perhaps a little free-lance?
Casey: Yeah, I still do some. I still have a lot of car dealers I do in St. Louis, and I’ve got about four radio stations and a TV station I do. I just don’t have the time to do it like I used to. This place will keep you busy.

JV: You have the AM/FM combo there in Osage Beach, but you also have a 3rd station in Florida, right?
Casey: Yes. Here it’s the AM/FM. The AM is news/talk, and the FM is adult hits. Then we also have an AM station in Englewood, Florida, WENG. That’s a news/talk station.

JV: And your partner runs that one?
Casey: He kind of floats between both of them. He’s really a Florida kind of guy. This past year he went down there in December, and he just came back last week. He’ll probably be here through the summer, and then go back this fall again.

JV: What’s one of the most surprising things you learned about radio from that other side over there in management, something creative types might not ever get a glance at?
Casey: Being fair. Being fair to all employees. Being fair to not only all the employees, but being fair to all the other businesses and sponsors that support the radio station. A lot of times when there are problems in a radio station, we kind of put the blinders on and we look at how it affects us. A good manager is really looking at how it affects everyone, not just the production department. Because whatever rule you make for one person, you have to make it for everyone.

I think another thing is just trying to keep everybody happy, positive and motivated. Sometimes I feel like I ought to put on a little skirt and be a cheerleader, just to keep everybody positive, particularly sales, because you know what? Sales is really the toughest job in all of radio. It really is. These sales guys go out there every day and they’re getting told no, no, no, no, no by everybody in the community. And then they come in and in a lot of radio stations, they’re slapped with tons of paperwork. And then the production guy will say, “No, I don’t have time to do that commercial. I’m so busy I can’t do it. I’m out of here.”

So the salesperson comes back into what should be his haven of support and comfort and is faced with even more negativity. And if there’s anything that’ll take a radio station down, it is negativity. It’s people not working together. Let me go back to what I said earlier; a radio station is the result of the total product of every human being in there. Everybody has to pull on the rope equally. Everybody has to support each other equally.

We think that every radio station has its stars, and they should have their stars, and everybody should support the stars. But the stars don’t need to rub it in everybody’s faces. I mean, everybody has to pull on the rope equally, and everybody has to realize that they all have equal strength.

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