A key component of radio’s connection to its audience – and an important revenue stream that’s been syphoned away the past year – is making a welcome return as live events begin to repopulate station calendars across the country.
From Townsquare Media’s Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival in Tyler, TX to Radio One Atlanta’s “Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash 25” to the “Power 98 Block Parties” hosted by Beasley Media Group hip-hop/R&B WPEG Charlotte and the “New Faces of Country” event presented by country sister WSOC – live station events are starting to come back.
Just last week, iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman said he expects two of the company’s marque large scale events, the iHeartRadio Music Festival in September and the travelling iHeartRadio Jingle Ball, “to be live and in person this year.” Audacy CEO David Field told attendees on a recent earnings call that “based on the improving state of the pandemic, we now expect to see a partial return of the events business later this year.” That sentiment was echoed by Saga CFO Sam Bush who told investors, “We pretty much lost this category of revenue in 2020… What we are beginning to see is some resurgence in events.”
The Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival is a heritage event that Townsquare Media created in 2014 and “features 25 of the most celebrated barbecue restaurants in Texas and the biggest names in Texas & Red Dirt Music,” VP/Live Events, Ashly Emerson Keating tells Inside Radio. And in case you’re wondering, listeners are excited to get back out. “2021 was a record year, with tickets selling out in just 24 hours,” Keating says.
Keating says the festival map for the May 1 event “was completely redesigned to allow for proper social distancing” and to keep the event below the attendance capacity limits imposed by Tyler authorities. “We worked in tandem with the local Health Department and County Judge to ensure that all staff, vendors and patrons were safe.”
Safety is key as radio dips its toes into a post-pandemic events world. Beasley Media Group Chief Content Officer Justin Chase says company stations are “choosing either outdoor venues or large/open rooms for indoor events, both with limited capacity to allow for social distancing and face coverings required.”
On Friday, Beasley’s Philadelphia heritage rocker WMMR (93.3) announced its “MMR*B*Q” would return to the outdoor BB&T Pavilion in Camden, NJ Sept. 25 with Jane’s Addiction, The Offspring and Cheap Trick as headliners for an eight-act lineup. “On the air, it sounds amazing to hear, ‘tickets on sale now,’” Program Director Bill Weston said. “It is very gratifying after working with the pros at Live Nation over the past five months to present such a terrific line-up of new and heritage talent.”
The “Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash 25” was moved to Georgia State University’s Center Parc Stadium, formerly Turner Field, because the venue adheres to the state’s COVID-19 protocols, “which involves about two pages of guidelines for the venue,” Radio One Regional VP/GM Tim Davies says. The mid-July date gives the station some wiggle room as large-gathering rules constantly evolve. “If the Governor’s offices change their guidelines over the upcoming months, our protocols might change as well,” Davies explains. “We will have anywhere from 14,000 to 28,000 in attendance.”
Safety and health protocols extend to clients and vendors as well. In addition to the 25 BBQ restaurants at the Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival, the event also hosted nearly 30 sponsors. “Vendor booths were spaced out to allow for social distancing,” Keating explains. “Masks were encouraged for those working.” Did that deter any participants? “We completely sold out of sponsor and vendor space and had a wait list of clients hoping to be a part of the festival.”
Davies says the Radio One Atlanta team is working with sponsors to adhere to the venue’s guidelines “to assure success and safety.” Food vendors, he says, must also “meet Georgia Department of Public Health’s Covid-19 Guidance for Restaurants.”
Another welcome return are the familiar faces that staff these festivals and concerts – the station event crews. Like many other groups Radio One Atlanta had to furlough most of the promotions department in 2020. “Because of Birthday Bash 25, we were able to start hiring back some of our promotions team because they are directly tied to a revenue generating event,” Davies says.
“In many of our markets, Beasley has already begun to bring back some of the promotions team members and this is likely to continue as the demand for events and promotions increases,” Chase adds.
Planning ahead is crucial, Keating says. “We received approval from local authorities on Feb. 26 to move forward with Red Dirt,” she explains. “It required a team effort between Townsquare’s Live Event’s Division and our rock star staff in Tyler.”