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Townsquare CEO Bill Wilson: We Used ‘Radio as a Trojan Horse to Build a Digital-First Company’

Townsquare Media makes no bones about its mission. It is a digital-first company that owns radio stations. And during a recent interview, CEO Bill Wilson explained the thought process behind that strategy.

While speaking with the Boyar Value Group, Wilson discussed his rise to the company’s CEO after previously serving as a marketer at Arista Records. He then expanded upon the philosophy the company utilizes to serve the local markets it operates in.

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Townsquare is a local media company focused on — really the whole premise of the company originally was to use radio as a Trojan horse to build a digital-first company. This was formed in 2010, originally with about 17 markets, 60 radio stations,” said Wilson. “One of the important things was the premise all along was to build a digital company on the back of a radio company and to focus on markets outside the top 50.

“For two reasons. One, radio means a lot more in markets outside the top 50. And we can go through some of the statistics that bear that out. And two, the competition for digital advertising and digital marketing solutions is going to be a lot less competitive in markets outside the top 50 versus New York, LA, Chicago, and Nashville. We’re very proud of the radio business, and to me, we would never have had the success over the last 14 years in transforming into a digital-first company without the DNA of radio.”

Wilson added that the company has implemented strategies to cover “news deserts” it serves, and said the initiatives have increased listenership in the process.

“We feel a calling to make sure that these smaller markets are informed and have trustworthy journalists. A lot of our hires over the last five years have actually come from the local newspapers,” Wilson admitted. “As they shed jobs and focus more on national content, we’ve actually picked up those reporters to serve that need and we have them on the air.

“But we also have digital-only reporters creating content that if you go to any one of our 300-plus local websites, I think most people would look at them as almost like a local newspaper. They wouldn’t recognize that a radio company was behind them. So, we think it’s incredibly differentiated. We reach one in two adults listening to the AM/FM stations of ours because they’re so local.”

A recent report from Borrell Associates revealed that Townsquare earns 52.3% of its annual revenue from the digital space. While the company saw a 1.9% decrease in total revenue in 2023, it featured a 7% increase in digital.

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