When Vince Benedetto retired as an Air Force special agent, he wanted to leap into the business world. And after looking into the possibilities with the thoroughness of a crack military investigator, coldly assessing all the potential growth opportunities he could find, and finally making his entrance, Benedetto chose…local radio stations in Pennsylvania.
But 14 years after the 29-year-old Benedetto left the Air Force, the Bold Gold Media Group he founded strung together 14 music- and talk-format radio stations throughout northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Among them is a rock station in Scranton that has 1.1 million Facebook followers, more than any other radio outlet in the country.
And Benedetto has been recognized not only by his industry but also by others who may have wondered what he possibly could have been thinking when he plunged into the radio business at a time of huge technological disruption by the internet.
“This industry is doing well,” Benedetto told Chief Executive. “There’s great cash flow, and high barriers to entry, but it’s localized. And you’re in a lot of different businesses: music, marketing and advertising, news and promotion and events—those are all aspects of broadcast radio.” He added, “A good local radio station has its finger on the pulse and needs and passions of an area and adapts its programing to them in subtle ways every day to cater to that audience.”
Benedetto contrasted his entrepreneurial journey with the digital-tech template that is typical of the modern era. “Many young entrepreneurs want to go into tech startups, but most of those businesses aren’t around in two years,” he said. “Ninety percent of pure-tech and software-driven startups don’t have a shelf life. But radio is technology, too and you can spin off of that with internet streaming and production and things that are tangent to broadcasting.”
It helped that, in the mid-2000s, many family-company owners of small-market radio stations were selling out, mostly to the industry giants. He jumped in because “I thought radio was a great place to be. It’s a mass-reach medium and has a solid business model. And it seemed that if you did a couple of things well in your community, providing local content and good music and good information, you could project within your business plan how you would do.
“I started with something established that I knew would go through certain disruption, like all industries, but has the margins to handle the change. The main reason many big companies in radio have struggled is that they carried a lot of debt, paying 10 to 14 times cash flow for properties pre-recession.”
At the same time, Benedetto acknowledged that local radio has been changed greatly by the arrival of online music services, streaming, personal-playlist providers such as Spotify, and by social-media platforms that provide an entirely different way for Americans to build local relationships than the old-fashioned nexus of a community radio station. But key to Bold Gold’s growth has been how the company has harnessed social media.
“If social media didn’t exist, radio should have invented it,” Benedetto said. What DJs do “is great social-media fodder. Before, the typical radio station could only build a fan base over the air or at live events, where they had to bring people out. But now with social media and streaming and the internet, you’re able to create that touch more than just on the air.
“Our mantra is, ‘On air, online, mobile, social, live and local’—we’re all those things now. And with smartphones everyone has a radio on them all the time.”
Bold Gold remains acquisitive because the company can scale back-of-the-house operations in purchased properties and optimize the efficiency of administrative staff company-wide, Benedetto said. “But the things that matter to local communities—local DJs, the news department, and leadership—we invest in those things.”