AMA News & Events

WUNC On The State of Radio–Now and in the Future

By Bob Castle

Posted @ May 22, 2023

The next time you flip on WUNC, you can say you know the guy probably behind the programming.

WUNC is the NPR member station for the Triangle and most of Eastern North Carolina…and an AMA Triangle sponsor. 

Bob Castle, WUNC’s Corporate Support Manager, chatted with us about how he came to work for WUNC, the state of public radio today, and where he sees it going in the future.

Early Lessons in Sales

Triangle AMA: What was the craziest job you’ve ever had?

Bob: It was in high school in Northern Virginia. What I thought was a courier job, which is what was advertised, was really different. I would call in and I would get my deliveries. What had happened on the backside that I didn’t know, is that there was a group of telemarketers calling people saying, “Hey, you’ve won this camera, as well as this film processing agreement, and also a three-day, two-night vacation.” 

The camera was this plastic 35-millimeter replica. It was a fixed lens. It was this awful plastic box. I ended up having to sell as much as just deliver. It was a $35 package. I got $5 for every one that I delivered.

It was the first time I ever sold anything. It made me talk to a variety of people. I learned that selling is never, ever, ever about talking. It’s about listening, fulfilling needs, and answering questions. 

From Selling Cameras to Selling Radio Airtime

Triangle AMA: How did you go from selling cameras to helping people fulfill their dreams on a radio station in Raleigh?

Bob: When I got to college, I worked as an on-air announcer and the Assistant Program Director in Harrisonburg, Virginia, when I was at JMU. I strayed from public radio because I didn’t think you could make money there. I was wrong. 

I went into media sales at the alternative to Newsweek, Creative Loafing, in Charlotte. I was there for about 10 years. Went to the Charlotte Observer, did my own paper for a little while. Ended up back at Creative Loafing for a number of years, then sold Yellow Pages for about 10 years. 

Then I found WUNC. There’s never been a job that I’ve had that marries mission with the heart that I have, as well as the sales aspect of it too. Again, selling is never about my commission. It’s never about me making money. It is only about what the client needs, and selling something that you couldn’t be prouder of. I could not be prouder of WUNC. It is a lifelong dream.

Radio: Declining or Transforming?

Triangle AMA: Radio stations have gone through quite a transformation. Do people still listen to the radio? How has that transformed the way radio works today in your mind?

Bob: There are still people that listen to the radio at home. We’ve got statistics. It’s typically older demographics. My children, for example, at 27 and 25, will never listen to terrestrial radio, ever. That is over for that generation. As we’ve had to evolve, it’s streaming, it’s digital, and it’s calling out to a smart speaker, “Hey, play WUNC.” You can stream it that way. Even our WUNC app. I still have about 1.2 million session starts on the smartphone every year. That’s not insignificant. So, it is changing. 

The pandemic has also done a lot with drive time. Those have always been the tent poles for radio, the AM and PM drive. We saw the strangest thing happen. It became about midday listening. In the old days, it was the tent poles with the dip in the middle. During the pandemic, that actually changed. We’ve also seen listening on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday go up. Friday used to be our best day every week. That has changed where Monday and Friday are now a little bit less listened to.

So, yes, we’ve seen a transformation happen. We are one of the stations in the public radio sphere that are working hard to make that transformation to digital. What are we going to be doing down the road? AM radios aren’t being put into Teslas? Are you going to listen to something in self-driving cars?

What Does the Future Hold for Radio Ads?

Triangle AMA: Let’s say you run through something like iHeartRadio. Do you still control what ads people hear? 

Bob: Many of the commercial entities do a split. You can buy as an advertiser, you can buy over the air, you can buy the streaming. Right now, it is one and the same. When the stream starts, that same message runs on air and it runs through the streaming devices. So it’s one in the same.

The one place that’s a little different is I have the ability to splice in a pre-roll. I call it my beachfront property. I love it. When someone says to their smart speaker, “Play WUNC,” go to their app, or launch it on their computer, I got a 20-second message that will play right there. It’s a sponsor message. It’s called the pre-roll right before the live stream. 

Someone’s waiting for their content, they’re waiting for their NPR news, they’re waiting for WUNC and they get, “This live stream of WUNC is brought to you in part by…” sponsor name, what they do, more at this website, and then the stream launches. So that’s the one thing that we’ll sell that differs from our over-the-air signal. 

Triangle AMA: With our short attention span, do you still sell 30-second or 60-second ad spots?

Bob: No, never did. Because we have the ability to go on air and ask listeners to send us money to support us as a public entity we cannot sell advertising.

40% of my listeners have advanced degrees. This is the smartest bunch of people in this area. I have heard that we have more listeners with advanced degrees than any public radio station in the country. If those folks are listening to us and when they listen, they are not gonna put up with 22 minutes of commercials like a commercial station could do. But they’ll listen three minutes per hour, and I’ll put three max next to each other. 

They don’t leave the dial, they don’t leave the stream. 73% of listeners hold a more positive opinion of a company that supports public radio. 70% prefer to purchase products and services from those that support public radio. We’re very blessed with the people that sponsor us commercially, as well as our sustainers, which are the people like you and I that would give on a monthly basis.

What Catches Listeners’ Attention Today?

Triangle AMA: If somebody wanted to get a message across what sticks with a listener best?

Bob: We do all live reads. Our hosts, Eric Hodge and Catherine Brand read them live. The FCC heavily regulates what we can say. I can’t have calls to action. We can’t have superlatives. It’s all about the listeners in public radio. It is not about making advertisers happy, though we do, please don’t misunderstand me, but it is all about the listeners because if you don’t have the listeners, you got nothing to sell anyway. 

Not always, but in this case it’s true, the more education you have, the more money you make. 60% of my listeners make $100K or more. They’ve got disposable income, they’re smart, and they listen.

Additionally, our area is so fertile. Because of RTP, the state government, and the major research universities we have here, this is fertile ground for public radio. That’s why we have so many listeners and sustainers.

What Does the Future Hold for Public Radio?

Triangle AMA: With people being able to do their own podcasts and create their own content, what makes what you do unique enough to keep listeners engaged?

Bob: National Public Radio is in any survey that you find one of the most unbiased and most reliable news sources out there. There’s no replacing that. The days of broadcasting “We’re the media company, this is your choice” are over. Instead of broadcasters determining what you listen to, I tell you what I want to listen to. 

That being said, people could give you all the opinions that they want. But I just heard Mary Louise Kelly, who’s one of our hosts of All Things Considered out of NPR National interviewing, I believe one of the foreign ministers of Iran. She was interviewing people on the street and getting the truth. This man was lying through his teeth and she’s calling him on it. 

Where we go in the future with a podcast or streaming digitally, I hope we’ll never be ignored. I do fear that we might because sometimes truth makes people uncomfortable. I think people tend to surround themselves with, “I want to only be around people who think like I do.” Truth becomes what you want it to be.

Explore everything that WUNC has to offer here.

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