A Radio Giant Renames Itself to Chase Podcast Listeners
A recording microphone at a studio. Photograph by Apostrophe Productions

A Radio Giant Renames Itself to Chase Podcast Listeners

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The second-largest radio-station owner in the U.S. doesn’t want you to think of it as a radio company anymore.

Entercom Communications Corp. is changing its name to Audacy, a rebrand it hopes will make its sleepy radio company sexy to a younger generation of podcast-hungry consumers and advertisers. The company’s stock symbol will change to AUD as of April 9.

In the last couple of years, Entercom has acquired a trio of podcasting companies, including Cadence13 and Pineapple Street Studios, two of the leading producers of high-quality podcast. On Tuesday, Entercom will announce plans to produce audio programs exclusively for its own app, a major departure from its recent strategy.

“We’re so much more than radio, I don’t use that word now,” said J.D. Crowley, the company’s chief digital officer.

It’s not hard to understand why Crowley would feel that way. The radio business has been stagnant for most of the past decade, and collapsed during the pandemic. The company’s sales fell 28% last year despite a presidential election, typically a lucrative time for radio broadcasters.

Entercom Chief Executive Officer David Field said the drop is temporary, due largely to businesses that had to cut back on marketing budgets during the pandemic. Some 40% of the company’s advertisers, including concert promoters and retailers, weren’t spending on radio at the end of 2020.

But most radio experts believe that the industry will never fully recover. “This pandemic has accelerated the shift of traditional advertising to digital,” said Craig Huber, a media analyst with Huber Research. “I don’t expect radio to get back to 2019 levels.”

The audience for online audio, meanwhile, is booming. The number of people who listen to a podcast every week surpassed 80 million last year, according to Edison Research. Entercom is hoping to capitalize on that market by increasing its investment in its own app, as well as the website Radio.com, which will also change its brand to Audacy.

Up until a few years ago, Field ran a midsize, family-operated station group. Then it decided to buy CBS Radio, home of New York’s WFAN and 1010 WINS, turning the Philadelphia-based operation into the second-largest station owner in America. Only iHeartMedia Inc., far and away the largest, is bigger. That company, once known as iHeartRadio, rebranded a couple years ago for the same reason that Entercom is rebranding now.

Field promised radio had years of growth ahead, and believed he could make his company more profitable through consolidation.

Radio is one of the most popular and least understood media in America. Every month, some 240 million people listen to the radio. It reaches more people in the U.S. than all paid music services combined. The industry survived the 2008 recession much better than print newspapers and magazines, stabilizing advertising sales within a couple of years.

But ever since 2011, industry ad sales have flatlined. Online services including Spotify Technology SA, Apple Inc.’s Apple Music and Amazon.com Inc.’s Amazon Music have surged, mostly by selling subscriptions. The online advertising market for podcasting has grown at a rapid clip, but will only pass $1 billion in the next year or two.

Entercom had dipped its toes in with its acquisition of Cadence13 and Pineapple Street, and creating Radio.com, which it says is one of the fastest-growing online audio destinations in the U.S. By its executives’ own admission, however, it hasn’t been enough.

Having already produced hit series like “Wind of Change” for Spotify, the company plans to produce 22 original audio series this year. Some of those will only be available on its own app, or debut there first, including two true-crime shows, “My Fugitive” and “Stay Away.” It’s also talking to top radio talent like Boomer Esiason about making special shows for the web.

“Audio is having moment of renaissance right now,” Field said. “At beginning of the year we challenged ourselves and said we want to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever before.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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