Radio Stations, Alternative Newspapers Make a Nice Pair

Companies go for synergy

While the concept of synergy often promises more than it delivers, some media companies that own alternative weekly papers and radio stations find the two operations can complement each other in small, but noticeable ways.

For example, while alt-weeklies often boast enviable demographics, they rarely attain a dominant market share. And while radio stations typically reach a wider audience, the obvious limits of the medium make it hard for them to air detailed ads and listings. However, if you package the two, you can get the proverbial best of both worlds.

Take Steel City Media, which operates Pittsburgh City Paper along with two FM radio stations. Vice President Michael Frischling says, “there is a lot of synergy” between the radio stations and the paper.

“There are certain attributes that print offers that radio doesn’t, and there are certain attributes that radio offers that print doesn’t,” he says.

Frischling says the City Paper reaches a young, active audience, while the two radio stations target an active, if slightly older audience. If you advertise on all three, he says, you’ll have all your bases covered.

“When you purchase all three you can reach nearly half the audience in Pittsburgh, which is a greater penetration than the daily,” he says.

Frischling says that when possible the company’s account executives offer incentives to advertise on all three outlets. In addition, the trio engages in cross promotion. For example, both radio stations and the paper helped promote the company’s Shady Side Arts Festival. In addition, the paper’s better-known writers appear on the radio stations, which can draw new readers to the paper, and all three outlets run ads for each other.

On the editorial side of the spectrum, synergy can be more elusive, especially since few radio stations nowadays generate their own local news.

Saga Communications, Inc., the new owner of The Octopus, a six-year-old non-AAN weekly paper in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., hope the three radio stations they own in central Illinois will help generate content for their still-fledgling print property.

Warren Lada, senior vice president of Saga, says the radio stations have a good news presence and that should help on the editorial side of the ledger.

Still Lada clearly expects the outlets will complement each other more on the business end of things. “There will be some synergy at least on a promotional and marketing basis, ” he says.

Phoenix Media Communications, which owns the Boston Phoenix and other alternative papers, also has under its umbrella a four-station radio network covering six markets in New England. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, chief political writer Seth Gitell and media critic Dan Kennedy both appeared on the company’s radio network providing commentary on the breaking events. For the radio network, having the two top-shelf writers on air enabled it to provide more than just the standard coverage off the wire.

Even when there is no breaking news, the paper’s film critic, Peter Keough, and Senior Managing Editor Clif Garbodan both have weekly radio spots on the company’s radio network.

“On the obvious level in terms of news and public affairs, you have the ability to cross promote things,” says Peter Kadzis, editor-in-chief of the Phoenix Media Communications Group. “This benefits the paper the most.”

On the marketing and promotional side of the business, both the Phoenix and the radio network promote the paper’s “Best Music Poll” spring cover issue. For that feature, readers of the paper and radio listeners vote online for their favorite local and national music acts. All the outlets also promote various music concerts and series, including a wildly popular Green Day concert a few years back attended by 100,000 people.

Matt Pulle is a staff writer for the Nashville Scene.