Shawn Smith: Broadcast Dialogue and the Canadian Radio Awards
Updated: May 31
Shawn Smith is the owner of Broadcast Dialogue, and its parent company Momentum Media Marketing. Broadcast Dialogue has been around since 1992, and is well-established as Canada's premiere broadcast industry trade publication.
If you've been following The Sound Off Podcast since the beginning, you might remember that Shawn originally appeared on this podcast in its infancy. In this episode, we discuss the acquisition of the legendary Canadian broadcast magazine 6 years later, along with all the changes it's undergone over the years.
We also discuss the Canadian Radio Awards and the call for nominations. The time has come once again! And there's great news: it costs absolutely nothing to enter.
If you'd like to apply to the Canadian Radio Awards, submit your radio audio here.
Tara Sands (VO) 00:00:01
The Sound Off Podcast. The podcast about broadcast with Matt Cundill... Starts now.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:00:10
Okay, so not a big, long intro for this podcast episode. It is Shawn Smith, who is the owner of Broadcast Dialogue. We had him back on episode six of the Sound Off podcast, and we thought we'd bring them back. The Canadian Radio Awards are also online once again, and once again, we need your nominations and entries. So joining me from Vancouver is Shawn Smith from Broadcast Dialogue. Shawn, can you remind us all once again, why did you buy Broadcast Dialogue?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:00:42
When Howard and Ingrid decided that they were going to retire, the industry was apoplectic. At least that's how it was described by Jeff Polton. And that's exactly how I was feeling. So I put the word out to Howard that I thought that there's no way that the industry could do without Broadcast Dialogue, and that nobody would honor his legacy more than I would. And he responded to that. But true to form, Howard took three months to grind me on every aspect of the sale. But then we concluded it probably a week before we were due to publish. And they were so gracious and really served as helicopter parents for three years until finally Ingrid made Howard finally retire and stopped responding to emails. So that's the story.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:01:33
I think back, though, am I right in thinking they weren't even going to sell it? They were just going to let it go.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:01:37
They were going to shutter it. Because what better way to go out on top, and just put a period on the sentence. And the industry just wasn't having it. And I wasn't the only one at the table, but I think I'm the only one that truly understood over 30 years what Broadcast Dialogue really means to the business. And I think Howard only then felt comfortable with the idea of it going forward.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:02:02
Well, you know what it means, and I know what it means.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:02:05
It's true. Although six years ago, we launched, or I'd say relaunched the platform at least as a digital only publication, which then made it far more accessible to folks who are digital first. And on top of that, over the last number of years, we've begun publishing daily updates and news stories over all the interwebs, so social media and all of that. So I think we've managed to reach a much younger industry participant, and we see it in the subscriber numbers.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:02:38
When was the last physical copy? When did that come out?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:02:41
Good question. I think maybe eight or nine years ago. And at that point, Howard was delivering a PDF that was emailed every week as the weekly briefing. And he was doing, I believe, a monthly print publication. But like all things print, it went the way of the dinosaur.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:02:58
So I had the luxury of starting a company and building it from the ground up because I can make all my mistakes. They would remain rather private. There was really no legacy to follow. But you have this giant legacy in Broadcast Dialogue. How has it evolved over the six years that you've had it, and has it gone the way you thought it would?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:03:16
I think it's exceeded my expectation, because when you're in discussions with Howard Christensen, Howard is very pointed about asking you what you think the strengths are and what you're going to do in different situations. And so he prepared me for any potential pitfalls, and then he was around to make sure and make his voice known if he thought we were off track. Now, the secret, it turns out, is hire the very best people, which I have done, and they saved me along the way, and I think are a large part, if not all part of why the publication is doing so well and seems to be prospering in a whole different way than it was prior to the sale.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:03:59
Do you still get feedback on what they think about it?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:04:02
Oh, yeah. In fact, I think it was last year. We did a survey, and lo and behold, the things that people love best, the revolving door and the sign offs. It seems to be the secret sauce, the thing that people really feel that broadcast delivers where others don't. And that is the premier piece right there. And then, of course, right behind that comes the properly reported, journalistic, high-integrity news piece that we do.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:04:29
So I'm really surprised by the sign offs, but then again, I don't think I should be, because I know a lot of people who reach for the obituaries in the newspaper back when they were a little more common.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:04:40
Yeah, I think it's one of the most important pieces that we do because it recognizes all of the people that have come before us. And let's just say a sizable number of our subscriber base, far more than I think anyone would realize, are people who still keep their finger on the pulse of the industry but are retired. And sometimes I get notes that say things like, jeez, I don't recognize any names in the revolving door this week, but these are the people on whose backs we stand in this country and in this industry. And so the least we can do is honor them as they pass on. And I take it very seriously, and we do a lot of hard work on that. And Connie has to get a lot of credit because sometimes people who've been retired for 10, 20, 30, 40 years aren't the most easily accessible, especially in their final moment.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:05:36
Tell me a little bit about the database that you have on everyone. I feel like you've got the Central Database on broadcasting practically in North America. Like, who works where, who has worked where, where they're going. I think a lot of people probably read Revolving Door to find out where they're actually going next.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:05:53
It started out with Ingrid Christensen. And Howard will say it's due to her German proficiency, but she had a knack of staying on top of everyone. And the joke really is, or was, that Ingrid knew where you were going before you were. And in fact, she would, at the first hint that someone was going to change a job, she'd call reception and say, has Matt left yet? Then she called a new place and say, has Matt arrived yet? And this is how she manually kept that database so incredible over the years, and now we're able to keep up with it digitally and so on. But I don't think that it's nearly as complete as the days when she was on top of it. But yeah, it's a list from bottom to top of the industry.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:06:39
How do you know when to run with a rumor? Because we've heard rumors before, and a lot of people who may be your clients as well aren't really going to be rushing to confirm a stories. How do you draw that line and figure out when to go with it?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:06:53
Well, number one, Broadcast Dialogue always has and always will conform to very strict journalistic standards. And so a rumor is only a starting place for us. We'll begin to dig, and oftentimes it's Connie leading the charge, who's our editor of Broadcast Dialogue, and she will double confirm everything before it even reaches Broadcast Dialogue. So I'm proud to say that I don't think we've ever been accused of printing a rumor. We've often been accused of running with something before. People would wish that it would hit the press. But I think everybody understands that we're a newspaper first, and that's how we stay on top of it and we get it right.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:07:34
You see right there, that's my favorite story. Those are the ones I like the best.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:07:39
Yeah, it's wonderful to be ahead of the curve, and we do it better than anybody. And we don't even look or consider some purported trade publications that just print rumors or are a glorified bulletin board. We just don't place ourselves on the same playing field whatsoever.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:07:58
Do you think if you bought Broadcast Dialogue 15 years ago, you might have run with a bulletin board?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:08:03
Well, there is the word Dialogue in Broadcast Dialogue, so it's possible, but I think it would have had to have been pretty heavily moderated. What's interesting now is we have social media feeds, and I don't like social media feeds on news organizations because it's usually loaded up with vitriol and very one sided sort of thinking. But on our feeds, I struggle to think of a time when we've had to moderate because people tend to be industry pros who know who we are. They govern themselves. It's the most awesome thing. So in our case, social media has been really good for us.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:08:43
Yeah, I was going to mention discussion boards, but you don't need them because you have a Facebook page but your Facebook page is not a dumpster fire the way some other Facebook radio groups are, perhaps.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:08:55
Yeah, I can't comment about any others, but I'm continually pleased with the high level of discussion that happens and I'm proud to have a dialogue there and I'm proud that folks who tend to come there are industry pros as well.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:09:10
You've had a podcast now for a couple of years. Congratulations on it. What's the podcast experience been like so far?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:09:17
Thank you. Well, it was one of the first things that we wanted to do, and we wanted to leverage the fact that everybody that works with broadcast dialogue and in our company, they're all media pros, a lot of radio people, people who can handle a microphone. And I thought, what better place if the moniker the Podcast about Broadcast wasn't already taken? I mean, I would have taken that because that's the perfect moniker for Broadcast Dialogue. It's great.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:09:43
I could license it to you.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:09:44
Yeah, usually that works the other way, but thanks for that.
Dervla Trainor (VO) 00:09:48
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Tara Sands (VO) 00:09:48
The Sound Off podcast.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:10:01
By the way, you just had your biggest quarter. Q2 for you this year, you had your biggest amount of downloads. Have you seen any trends, by the way, when it comes to which episodes do better than others?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:10:11
You know, it would probably surprise most people that it's actually, at least in one case, a vendor podcast that actually went sort of worldwide. And that was Bob Orban of Orban fame, a guy that can stack him a hundred deep at a trade show with engineers who just want to shake the hand. That was one of our greatest. And people really want to hear from some luminaries in the industry to talk about broadcast, and so those tend to be really good for us too. But then there are also others as well with industry luminaries from within broadcast that do great as well. And I'm sure you've got the numbers on that.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:10:55
Zach Sang did very well, and Brother Jake, of course, did very well when you had them on. But we also have Fred Jacobs on my podcast just last week. And one of the things we talked about was the yearning of people in radio to learn more about technology and find out what the future is really going to be like. So I'm not surprised to hear that some of your sponsored material involving technology is doing so well.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:11:18
First of all, Brother Jake can do no wrong. Everybody wants to hear what Brother Jake is going to say next. And Zach Sang is just one of those guys that he has a worldwide following anyway. And so when he drops into a Twitter feed that he's going to be on a podcast, we get 6000 listens from Korea immediately because for whatever reason, south Koreans love Zach Sang and they love BTS, and they'll gobble up everything they can.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:11:43
Looking back on the Pandemic, it represents just about half the time that you've been involved with Broadcast Dialogue. How did it change the Broadcast Dialogue side of the business?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:11:52
Broadcast Dialogue in 2021 had its best year of the last six, and that's from a revenue perspective. I'll talk about subscribers in a minute, but what happened is that the vendors to the industry, which are really the people that pay for Broadcast Dialogue as it is a free subscription, it all depends on the vendors. And they weren't able to travel, they weren't able to take engineers to dinner, they weren't able to go to trade shows. And so they recognized the opportunity to get up close and personal with all of our readers in Canada by using Broadcast Dialogue. And so that was just tremendous. And it's delivering for us in 2022 as well. But also, we're a bit of a lifeline for people in the industry who found themselves working from home in isolation. So they really started to consume any information that we could put out there, social media, whatever, the weekly briefing, and they really appreciated that. It really helped with our subscriptions as well. And just the general consumption of what we were putting out just went way up. And I think it was really important. In fact, we had one CEO tell us when we launched the Canadian Radio Awards, I said, it's going to be the Feelgood event of 2020. And this person said, oh, I don't think our employees are looking at that as the Feelgood event. And I think what they meant to hint there was there's so much pain happening internally at companies that it was hard to see anything positive. And so if we brought a little bit of positivity to the game at that point, that was a big win for us.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:13:30
You mentioned the Canadian Radio Awards. Is that something that came out of the pandemic?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:13:36
Absolutely. We were looking at an uncertain future. There were no live events. CAB had not been doing a live event, and those awards were gone. The CMW Awards were kind of on hiatus, and so I wasn't really looking forward any further than a few months. I just didn't really know what was going to happen. But I knew that we had an opportunity to pull off these awards, and we were just totally swamped with so many nominations. And on the day that we announced the winners, our website that we created for that purpose was swamped with, I don't know, it was tens of thousands of instant calls and just crashed the website. So that was just an indication of how important this was. And I came to find out that the vendor support has been there from day one. And so it's something we're just going to continue with on into the future. Every year.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:14:33
There's somebody listening to this podcast who is thinking that the Canadian Radio Awards are not for them. Tell them why they're wrong.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:14:41
Well, that's just silly talk, and I'll tell you why. It's because there's great radio happening from the smallest community stations on up to Toronto and the big dogs. And you don't have to be part of a 100 station conglomerate to do great radio and put it out there for our judges to have a look at. In fact, some of the most compelling nominations that we've received have been small market stations. That first Small Market Station of the Year award went to what was formerly Friendly 58 CJFX in Antigonish. And that, my friends, is one of the last remaining true small town radio stations that's almost a full variety format. Everything from local newscasts and bingo to Scottish strings. And that nomination, I think, has been unrivaled yet in the first two years. So I can't even wait to see what all stations are going to do. But it's for everyone.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:15:47
Have you ever thought about having a national convention like the RnR convention in the United States? That's actually gone away. But I look at the Worldwide Radio Summit, which has now become the Worldwide Audio Summit, and they've done it online for the last few years. Have you ever thought about something along the lines of a radio style convention?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:16:03
My whole life in radio has been about growing brands and experiential events and all of this kind of stuff. So I never say never. It's a little tougher in Canada because we have the population just slightly larger than California. So we have to be realistic about the scope of what we can do. And we also have to recognize that there are some great industry associations like the OAB, the BCAB, the WAB. These are folks that are in the event business and are still doing great events. Could we step in at some point and create a learning environment that could work coast to coast? I'm all in on that idea, but I think we've got some road to go. But definitely I view it as an extension of what Broadcast Dialogue and Cartt.ca can do.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:16:55
Speaking of Cartt.ca. You bought that. What is that? I don't know what that is because I was always too cheap to pay for it. It was like a subscription thing.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:17:03
Well, you do remember that Broadcast Dialogue for many years was subscription.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:17:09
No, that was different. I could just pick up the magazine at the station and read it in the lounge.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:17:13
Oh, yeah, one of those what do they call that? Phantom circulation. That's what they used to call that. Look, Cartt.ca has been around for 18 years. It was created by just a fantastic journalist named Greg O'Brien. And if Broadcast Dialogue is very firmly rooted on the radio television side of the business, with a little bit of telecom thrown in, there some cable, podcast, film. Then if you look on the other side of the business, you see Cartt, which is 45% of the subscribers are people who work directly in telecom. So in this case the other side of Rogers, of Shaw, of even companies like Telus and so on. So they're really good sort of bookends of the business and together they cross over just a little bit. But for the most part they fit together like a right and a left handed glove. And where Broadcast Dialogue really tracks the people and their moves, honors them when they pass away, and keeps on top of the relevant news for the industry. We look over to Cartt, and Cartt is doing heavy hitting journalism, heavy reporting. There's a whole host of contributors and writers who bring all sorts of thoughts and positions on things like Bill C Eleven and so on, that you just don't get without that subscription. And that subscription, it's about $149 a year. That gives you two emails every week, chock full of heavy-duty learning on the telecom and broadcast industries. So they're two different animals, but they're in the same sandbox.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:18:56
We're recording this on a Wednesday, tomorrow being Thursday. That's going to be the day that I get my email and it's how I'm going to start my day, by reading everything that's going on in the industry. How many people, by the way, are receiving that email, if I may ask?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:19:09
More than 6400, which in a business that has been contracting, arguably, is actually growing considerably.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:19:19
It's funny, we think of the business as contracting, but I think people are always going to be interested in the business even if you're not necessarily working in it.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:19:26
It's true, absolutely. The vendors love to read about the business and it's not just the fact that they sell to the industry, it's that they love to keep tabs on what's happening in Canada. And we're talking about multinational corporations, predominantly in the US. But also now more increasingly in Europe and Asia, and they see it as a window into Canada.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:19:47
Now this question is a little bit nosy, but how many of those subscribers are from the United States who are interested in just what we're doing in Canada?
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:19:56
You know, I couldn't give you a number, but it's in the hundreds and hundreds. For sure.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:20:02
Because I'm always interested, in podcasting, like, how many people are coming to our podcasts and consuming them from the US to find out what we're doing in Canada? Because I think we are doing things a little bit differently, and I think much the same way we look to the US for things, they look to us too.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:20:16
Yeah, there's no question about it. We get a lot, a lot of our social media activity is coming out of the US. But by and large, it's Canada first.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:20:24
Shawn, congratulations so much on the Canadian Radio Awards. Looking forward to hopefully getting lots of entries and lots of submissions for you to go through. And I think it's just great that you do this. And I'm counting now, I think this is the third edition that you've done. So congrats.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:20:40
I really appreciate that, Matt. And we appreciate our partnership in terms of our podcasts, and the work we do together on the respective podcasts, and all that you're doing and the support you give to the Canadian Radio awards. We appreciate it.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:20:54
I love you, brother.
Shawn Smith (Guest) 00:20:55
Love you too, man.
Tara Sands (VO) 00:20:56
The Sound Off podcast is written and hosted by Matt Cundill. Produced by Evan Surminski. Social media by Courtney Krebsbach. Another great creation from the Soundoff Media Company. There's always more at soundoffpodcast.com.