There was a time when the most sought after piece of mail radio stations received each week wasn’t a new release from a hot artist. It was the latest issue of Radio and Records (R&R), “The Industry’s Newspaper.”
Most industry vets would agree that R&R was radio’s leading printed radio trade publication at its height, providing a weekly look at radio across the country, including columns dedicated to every major format, special features, music charts that included details on what songs each station was playing and, of course, the coveted want ads (“Pros On The Loose”) where many a radio job was found. And of course, the latest gossip and comings and goings in “Street Talk.”
But of course, the only constant is change, and that’s where the story of this week’s entry in our “Radio’s Most Innovative” series begins. After 13 years in programming and a bit more than that as the Top 40/CHR Editor at R&R, Joel Denver decided it was time for a change. Leaving the paper late in 1994, he struck out to build a career path that mixed his three passions: music, radio, and technology. In January of 1995, along with his wife and business partner Ria, he launched the All Access Music Group, Inc.
Joel’s venture began as a successful business promoting music to radio stations, but then he stepped into uncharted territory in October of 1995 when he launched the website AllAccess.com long before most people even began considering the idea of online content supplanting the print format.
All Access is both a content and revenue success story, providing must-have information in a real-time format, and of course, generating revenue because it was – and still is – a free publication.
In this week’s edition of “Radio’s Most Innovative,” we asked Joel to share the backstory of his innovation: launching the first online-only radio trade publication, and talk about how the brand has grown over the years.
JM: What convinced you that being online without a print component was the future?
JD: Having been with R&R for so long, I had watched the snail-mailed weekly edition begin to lose traction and the daily R&R Hot Fax get more popular in the early ‘90s, as the appetite for on-demand information became a way of life.
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Being an early computer adopter — I bought my first in 1981 with a blazing 10mb, not 10gb hard drive — I was a fan of the AOL Music Message Center which reinforced the need for immediate delivery of information in real-time. I learned that convenience combined with a strong product wins. So in June of 1995 I met with a small Internet design team, and planned out a nine-page site: AllAccess.com.
Because we were talking to a lot of radio programmers, we had an instant audience. The first week we had over 1,000 “hits.” Now, as we head into our 20th year we’ve had nearly 200,000 registrations and currently serve around 25 million page views annually.
JM: Other trades eventually added websites. What sets All Access apart?
JD: Another axiom I believe in is “first in can win” but you have to keep the product strong. We beat R&R to the Internet by a full year and when they decided to charge $10 a month for access, I turned cartwheels. I knew the information we were providing had to be free. We were in the “eyeball business.” Eyeballs bring community which brings advertisers, commerce, and opportunity. We wanted as many eyeballs as possible. A fee wouldn’t help.
The other thing that makes us different both then and now is our amazing, talented group of editors, design artists, technical team and support staff. They all share the passion to be first but above all be accurate. That sense of urgency combined with the desire to lead and be of service by putting our readers and the product they see first keeps us moving in a positive direction.
JM: What was the biggest hurdle you faced in the early days and how did you overcome it?
JD: In 1995, very few advertisers had computers on their desks even though radio people did. The advertisers knew we were reaching their target because our editorial content and growing selection of columns was being read, quoted, talked about and shared (via email of course, this was pre-social media). But they had a hard time understanding that the impact of a banner, spotlight box or superskyscraper would have more impact than a full page “print” advertisement.
We answered that challenge by being early adopters of email, sending out colorful html pieces to our opt-in users. With high open rates, strong reaction, and growing numbers of users and page views, clients eventually began advertising on the site and sending us their news.
I also remember an early discussion in late 1995 with Arbitron, before their website was launched, about publishing their ratings. They wanted to see our “book.” I kept telling them we aren’t a print publication, we are on the Internet. It took them some time to buy into the concept that AllAccess.com was our “book.”
JM: What changes in the industry have forced you to adapt your approach over the years?
JD: Because AllAccess.com has always had an “inclusive” profile and view of our industry, we’ve always been open to giving anyone, regardless of market size or title, the coverage that they deserve. I really feel a wonderful sense of daily accomplishment knowing that we’ve informed the radio and music communities, helped people find jobs, connect with each other, and grow creatively.
As the industry has consolidated, with more talented folks handling more duties across multiple formats, our inclusive nature and wide range of content has continued to serve our readers broader needs including new areas of interest like social media, streaming, and digital devices and platforms. Our logo says “Serving you since 1995” and that’s how we view our position in the industry: to serve.
JM: As you’ve made changes to the site, what was your most successful addition?
JD: The addition of the Mediabase Charts was a wonderful step forward for us in being a real content player. At the time we were both in our infancy, and we’ve helped and promoted each other for many years. We truly love our partnership with Mediabase.
The recent addition of the All Access Downloads system has been hugely successful. It allows music programmers in all major formats to listen to new music, securely download it, and even view it on our recently added Video Section without leaving the site. With our partners at PromoSuite, we’re about to get the message out to our radio friends on behalf of our music content clients.
JM: What challenges do you see in the future for All Access and how do you plan to meet them?
JD: Mobile is the place to be. We are updating our iPhone app as you read this (it will re-launch very soon) and plan to further upgrade our apps for all platforms to include additional features from the site in 2015. That will help continue expanding our user base which is growing globally with regular readers on every continent, including Antarctica!
There is also our partnership with A&R Worldwide and presenting the Worldwide Radio Summit (April 22-24, 2015 in Hollywood) which has added greatly to our international presence. We’ve developed some wonderful friendships as a result and hopefully will have some fun things to announce soon that build on those relationships.
JM: What is your view on the current state of the radio industry?
JD: The world is like a huge vat of quicksand with so many things in motion and so many ideas and practices being upturned, thrown out and reworked with technology and consumer behavior as the big variables.
For radio, music or spoken word, to thrive it must be more than just a music machine or home for syndicated programming. Stations have to provide entertaining local content. Being compelling is the key to remaining relevant and listeners will not tolerate what’s not relevant. They have too many better choices.
So it’s imperative for radio to invest in its product. That means great talent, marketing, and weekly music research (not monthly scores, music is 90% of the content, right?). Radio must also invest in a well-planned social media strategy along with a digital strategy. That’s where our listeners expect us to be: on the air, on social platforms, and streaming. We can no longer be that ancient “tower bound” content provider.
JM: You see news from all across the industry and interview people every week. Is there an innovative person, station, or company out there you are excited about?
JD: Yes! The most innovative and ballsy person in our industry today is Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan. I am impressed with him personally and with how he runs his company with compassion and vision. My hat is off to him for his forward-thinking moves with NextRadio. It has a long way to go in terms of devices and carriers but it’s a bold step toward putting radio where it should be, in everyone’s hands.
JM: What would you suggest to someone who has a potentially innovative new idea but isn’t sure how to get started?
JD: Explore all avenues to get it up and running and to market. And do not be afraid to fail. Have the courage to try and the resources to be patient as your great idea may be ahead of its time.
NextRadio is going through this right now and AllAccess.com went through it for a couple of years. But we stayed the course, and found a wonderful staff of professionals. I just kick the ball to center of the field each day; it’s the staff that scores the goals keeping me and our product relevant and innovative. I thank them for their amazing work and I thank you for this wonderful honor.
Thanks to Mike Stern for writing this week’s “Radio’s Most Innovative” profile.
INNOVATION QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Historically, musicians know what it is like to be outside the norm – walking the high wire without a safety net. Our experience is not so different from those who march to the beat of different drummers.
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Bill Figenshu says
Congratulations to Joel Denver and his team for creating a platform that continues to innovate, while successfully serving a changing industry, and to Jacobs Media for recognizing it!
Fred Jacobs says
Appreciate it, Bill. Joel showed real vision at a time when most were still clinging to paper. Thanks for the comment.
Riiiggghhhht… “Because AllAccess.com has always had an “inclusive” profile and view of our industry, we’ve always been open to giving anyone, regardless of market size or title, the coverage that they deserve.” By “our industry” he must mean the big established players and not those up-and-coming-lowly-garage-online-only folks. I know of many that have tried to interact and gain access to their “all access downloads” and such to no avail. So his service is nothing more than a “message out to OUR RADIO friends”. A very narrow view of the “industry”. If you’re not in the club, you’re not in the club. Sad.
Joel Denver says
Hi Mike …
The music we distribute on AllAccess.com through All Access Downloads is not our content … it belongs to the labels, and we have to check with them. We have plenty of Internet sites receiving content … here are the rules that are on the site that the labels ask us to follow:
ALL ACCESS DOWNLOADS is currently available in the US & Canada, via a permission-based recipient list that is approved by record labels and other music providers. Authorized users include: (1) All radio programming personnel at all MEDIABASE and BDS-monitored or reporting stations, (2) Label-selected non-reporting stations, (3) Those in corporate programming positions at all radio companies, and (4) Consultants, satellite providers, syndicated shows, and a growing number of the major Internet programming services.
To inquire about access, e-mail PAUL CARTELLONE (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call him at (310) 457-6616. He’ll check with the labels, and when they give us the green light, we’ll get you hooked up.
Now, if you like to call me and have discussion, please do at 310-457-6616 or email me at email@example.com.