Yes, it's true. I go to a lot of conferences and meet-ups. I'm also blessed to participate in many high level meetings and executive retreats. When I'm on my game, the key to getting the most out of these experiences is observation, “dot connection,” and action. If you talk to enough smart people, study well-executed research, be a good listener, and are prepared to be uncomfortable at times, good things can come out of it.
With most of the gatherings I attend, most of it isn't very surprising or reveletory. That's no knock on Conclave, Podcast Movement, PRPD, the upcoming Radio Show in Dallas, or even CES. They are all great events I wouldn't miss. I go to learn, take in great meetings and conversations, and meet new people while connecting with old colleagues and friends.
So, when I get the chance to attend something a little different, it's truly exciting and stimulating. And that was the case for an event that took place last month in faraway Portland, Oregon that relatively few people knew about. The “Portland Pop-Up” was put together by the Alpha Media team (headquartered in PDX) by Phil Becker and his team of wizards, including fellow Detroiter Amanda (“Ice”) Habrowski. Accurately subtitled “The Unconventional Media Convention,” it lived up to its billing.
These guys have something most stations and groups don't – an intimate theater that's a fabulous music and events showcase. It's also perfect for intimate gatherings of professionals like the “Portland Pop-Up.” Alpha has a great staff of tech people, producers, and content creators who use the facility and their resources to the max. I've seen a number of so-called “performance spaces” inside radio facilities over the years. Many are sporadically utilized, and often sit empty because of a lack of imagination, leadership, or resources.
But the success of the “Portland Pop-Up” had more to do with who was in the room, the vibe of the event, and the content and insights being shared. It was a rare moment of collaboration – from all sides of the spectrum. Phil invited his programmers from around the country – standard fare for company get-togethers of this kind. And there was the usual array of outside speakers and guests (like me) who come and go.
The “Portland Pop-Up” had a great look and feel, along with all the little touches – a cool logo that made its way everywhere – as well a functional and attractive website that was actually both attractive and helpful. And the event was a reminder to me that a group of “radio people” is more than capable of designing and executing a cool event. I've attended umpteen tech soirees over the past few years, and the “Portland Pop-Up” was right there.
But the “secret sauce” wasn't the venue, the colorful logo, or the vibe of spending a couple days in PDX. It was the collaboration of “radio & records,” as we used to say. The labels were there in force, showcasing their new releases, providing artists for live performances, and adding their insights into conversations that ran the gamut.
It begs the question of why the music industry and the broadcast radio business have been at loggerheads this past few years, battling over just about everything – losing sight of why each needs the other in order to survive and thrive in an increasingly disruptive media landscape.
And then there was the other surprise (to me). This event wasn't just confined to Alpha PDs and Phil's corporate team – there were broadcast pros in attendance from several other radio companies. I won't name names, not because I can't but because I don't know the specifics of precisely how everyone made their way to PDX and this event. So, let's leave it there. But to see key players from a half dozen different companies lay down their swords and bazookas for a day or two to collaborate and hang out was a rare joy in an industry that has become increasingly more cautious, proprietary, and guarded.
It raised the question why events like this aren't more common in broadcast radio, especially when “the enemy” is less and less about other radio stations and companies in town or the industry, and more about the growing, existential media threats that are all around us.
The celebration of what radio is, can be, and should be permeated the Alpha Theater. It was heartening to hear one label rep after another thanking radio for the contribution it makes to breaking and discovering new artists and new music, in spite of the digital maelstrom in which we live and where we compete.
One of the best sessions I've seen at any radio-ish conference involved personalities at the top of their respective games. Randy Lane Company's Jeff McHugh expertly let the amazing talent on stage take the lead: Tino Cochino, Dana Cortez, Jubal Fresh, and Ebro Darden (via Skype).
It was a wide-open, no holds barred conversation about the climb, the state of the radio, and what it takes to stay on top in an unpredictable media environment.
Each talent talked about the values of authenticity, connecting with audiences, and communities, and the rising table stakes it requires to reach the pinnacle without losing sight of how you got there.
And because each of these stars is a great storyteller, and one after another combined humor with raw emotion to share their feelings and experiences behind the mic, in the radio business, and in their respective markets.
There was even a mentalist on hand to entertain, charm, and teach. Wayne Hoffman has made the circuit, from “Ellen” to Asia, and brought flair and a sense of “oh wow” to the PPU. He had a clever way to amaze, astound, and teach basic business practices at the same time. As Wayne explained his trajectory from a very modest small town upbringing to headlining Vegas and performing all over the world.
I can't think of a better audience for a mentalist than a radio and records conference. And Wayne wowed us not only with his deft trickery, but his no-nonsense business advice. It was entertaining, a break from the usual conference agenda, and a chance to air out and think about how we manage our careers.
I have no clue whether Phil and the Alpha team will put on another of these “Portland Pop-Ups” in 2020. And I certainly don't know how you get invited to these events. But I hope they do, because I saw more community in this under-the-radar left coast event. I feel fortunate I was asked to not only show up, but to also present.
Our industry has no shortage of events, conferences, and company meetings.
Star DJs, label reps, bands, pros from many different radio companies, Nielsen Music, and even a mind reader.
You know what I'm thinking?
This was a great event.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
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