Heart of Austin: Anatomy of a Live Broadcast

This year’s SXSW is now in the rearview mirror.  It started off with that terrible bummer of a car crash.  But soon, memories of that tragedy were replaced with a whole lot of music, movies, panels, food, and mind-numbing exhaustion.  For Alt radio, something rather extraordinary happened this year that we need to talk about.  All of the Entercom Alternative stations (plus even some of their Hot A/Cs) took part in an extraordinary live private event broadcast, with nearly 60 bands that took place over three days.
“I’ve been in this business since 1978, and during that time I’ve been involved in many great music and radio events – almost too numerous to mention, but this was really one of the best of all of them,” Danny Buch, SVP of Promotion at SonyRED, confided to me.  Danny should be able to stand up and take a bow for this one, since he helped mastermind much of it.
“Last year, I was sitting in Austin with David Field, Entercom’s forward-thinking CEO and he was acknowledging all of the brands that now take part in this endeavor,” Buch continued, explaining to me the over-the-top nature of many major company’s branding efforts.  “David surveyed the scene, and he told me he wanted Entercom to be involved in some way this year.”
It was then that Buch got the idea to partner with a Sony Electronics event for a live broadcast, and “Entercom’s Heart of Austin” was born.  SonyRED’s in-house ‘stache media agency curates two venues that sit across the street from each other in Austin.  Stages were set up on the rooftop of each building, with a walkway that crossed the street below.  Bands would play on one stage, and then immediately after that set, another would start on the building on the other side of the street.  It was quite the spectacle.
“We asked the stations which bands they wanted to play, regardless of label, and they came up with a list, including local bands who won contests in the radio station’s local markets.” Buch explains.
Acts that played included The Orwells, Itch, Magic Man, SomeKinda Wonderful, Sleeper Agent, Wild Cub, Temples, and Bear Hands.  Each of the Entercom stations treated the event differently.  Some streamed it live on the web, while others utilized their terrestrial airwaves to customize it.
Garett Michaels at The End was his station’s correspondent with a blog and daily reports back to the station.  He saw the event as a great branding opportunity.  “The End has always been the destination in Seattle for music discovery, this certainly helps to reinforce that,” he articulated.
KRBZ PD Lazlo got in touch with me last week from Austin, and laid out what his station’s involvement was.  “We’re broadcasting from the event with interviews and exclusive content with Jeriney – the best MD on the planet – from 10 to 3.  We’re also streaming the showcases live on our website, and airing the showcases live on terrestrial radio in Kansas City on The Buzz.”
Wow.  Broadcasting banks live on the radio, these days?  Some skeptics undoubtedly would argue that this might cause tune-out, and hurt ratings, right?  “The answer is yes it could….maybe, “Lazlo replied, before expanding on that thought.  “For a few days.  It could help, as well.  I’ll let you know next month, but the truth is I don’t care.”
Well.  It’s not the he doesn’t care.  “It’s three days out of the year.  Three days!,” he clarified.  Then he asserted, “Let’s be willing to roll the dice a little.  Take some chances.  Plant our flag in the ground.  Radio matters.  It breaks artists.  We should be proud of that.  We should be pushing the boundaries.  Internet companies are broadcasting showcases.  We should do it, as well.  We should try to do it better.  On a local level you give the audience something different.  I don’t underestimate the intelligence of our audience.  They get it.  We brought local Kansas City bands out with us to play…plus we were able to expose new fantastic artists to KC that none of us had heard before.  I guess that’s the spirit of SXSW,” he concluded.
Sacramento station manager Jim Fox added, “All of the feedback I’ve received from both bands and spectators has been positive…unless you were one of those who arrived late and were forced to stand in line outside.”  Nik Rivers was similarly wowed.  “This was a great way to break into the Entercom family for WLKK and myself.  It was an amazing event from start to finish.”
Red Buch’s was careful to credit others when I caught up with him once he was home on Sunday night.  “This entire thing couldn’t have happened without the involvement of Charles Attal,” Danny told me.  Of course, Charles is one of three Charlies who make up C3.  He also is a force behind the Austin venue “Stubbs.”
Buch’s enthusiasm was infectious.  As we wrapped up the call, he listed the reasons why he was feeling so positive.  “Radio stations got exclusive content for their stations and for their websites.  Isn’t that what each of them wants?,” he asked me rhetorically.  “Record labels got exposure for their new bands, which is what they crave.  And Sony Electronics grew awareness for their product by having the cream of breaking acts playing, and receiving massive exposure via Entercom’s radio stations.  This entire event really was a win/win/win.”
Reprinted Courtney of The Sands Report 3/20/14 

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