Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Report: Outsourcing V/T Radio Voices Saves Cash

With radio giants taking a hit during the pandemic, companies like iHeartMedia and Entercom have increasingly turned to outsourced DJ talent to lower costs, reports Billboard.

Voice-tracking technology has been around for decades, but in the late '90s, when broadcast giants like Clear Channel began to consolidate and centralize their content, it became a way to replace full-time DJs with more affordable, out-of-town freelancers. The approach has returned to prevalence over the past year, as top radio companies like iHeartMedia and Entercom have lost revenue due to the pandemic and laid off hundreds in cities of all sizes.

Although iHeart and Entercom oversee their in-house voice-tracking networks from their home bases in San Antonio and Philadelphia, smaller radio companies rely on talent agencies such as Skid Trax, a 10-year-old service that links stations.  Lately business is booming: Between 2018 and 2019, Skid Trax increased the number of stations it works with by 7%; between 2019 and 2020, the increase was 43%. Skid Trax personalities have been “getting more and more calls,” says Tonya Campos, a former program director who co-founded the company 10 years ago.

Stations’ monthly rates are roughly between $400 (for 30 to 45 minutes of recording time that adds up to an hour or two on the air) and $2,500 (for live shifts of up to six hours every day). But voice-trackers usually have to record just on-air dialogue, and stations plug in songs and commercials later on, so the process takes less time.

Before Clear Channel transformed into iHeart in 2014, the radio conglomerate became infamous for cutting local talent and relying on centrally syndicated broadcasts by Ryan Seacrest and Rush Limbaugh as well as voice-tracking. The company's "monopolistic practices are accelerating the homogenization of our airwaves," social-justice activist Jeff Perlstein wrote in 2002. Today, just about every broadcaster uses some form of voice-tracking, even smaller ones emphasizing live and local.

At Entercom, the second-biggest radio company after iHM, stations grab on-air talent from other cities, hire retired DJs and occasionally use independent contractors for voice-tracking. 

Some broadcasters see opportunity in the cuts this year. Although Townsquare Media laid off 65 employees last March, including 26 from its corporate office, and the company employs voice-tracking in a minimal way, exporting content for weekend and overnight time slots, the broadcasting company’s strategy is to focus on local markets.

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