John Caracciolo, a radio lifer with an engineering background, formed JVC Media in 2009 with the purchase of two stations on Long Island. It wasn’t long before he doubled their holdings there and then expanded into Florida with station purchases in the Gainesville-Ocala, West Palm Beach-Boca Raton and Orlando markets, eventually programming 15 signals in two states.
It now operates in markets where JVC is truly in a David vs. Goliath battle, taking on major market signals and some of the country’s largest radio groups.
Tell us about the formation of JVC Media.
We started in 2009. I had an opportunity to buy two stations on Long Island from an owner that was retiring. I remember sitting down with Northwood Ventures, our private equity company, and they really believed in the story. They believe in the medium, they believe in radio, they believed in me and it was nice to have a partner who loved radio in private equity.
We started with the two stations and the economy was tough and we grew tremendously, because we were small, we were nimble and we were quick. We were not relying on huge national business. We were relying on making cash registers ring and putting people in seats. That’s what we were good at. Getting results.
We grew to four stations on Long Island and now five, and had opportunities in Florida and found some stations in great markets that needed some tender loving care. So we were able to put together a great group of radio stations that are live, that are local and that all have staffs that really believe in radio. I’ve been pretty lucky to surround myself and grow the company with people that just love this business. That is what makes the company a success.
You have an engineering background and have been known to roll up your sleeves to get the job done. How important do you think it is for a CEO to know all aspects of a radio operation?
I think it’s extremely important. I understand how important capital improvements in equipment are. Your transmitter is the lifeblood of your radio station and too many times I have walked into facilities and they are just beat up, spent and tired. I think my experience as an engineer helps me on sales calls and my experience with a business major helps me when I do engineering. I’m not just throwing money at problems. I have a well-rounded ability to look at things from a different angle so it helps tremendously.
JVC Media is less than 10 years old but has seen some significant growth. Give us a rundown of some of the highlights.
Definitely one of the biggest highlights was our Orlando purchase [WOTW, 103.1]. It’s a huge station in a great market. When you go from Spanish to country you really don’t keep a lot of the advertisers. So we went right to zero and it really was a complete rebuild with the staff and programming. We made a lot of mistakes, but we learned a lot.
You operate in markets that are well represented by the most of the major radio groups. How do compete with them?
In Long Island it is hard because you press a button and right next to us is a station out of New York City. So our product has to be stellar. It has to be on point. We have found some very good niches on Long Island. We have the only country station, the only Spanish station, the only oldies station, the only dance-rhythmic station and the only news-talk station just for Long Island. We really play off of that. The city is the city. They do what they do and they do a great job, but we are Long Island and we don’t try to be anything else.
In Orlando, there’s four radio groups – Entercom, Cox, iHeart and me. So we’re right there in the battle every day. I think the broadcasters in Orlando all row the same way. Everybody believes in promoting the industry, so there’s not a lot of negative selling. When we go in and somebody says they are on the competing country station, we say that’s great, you need to be on that station but you also need to be on us. There is so much business to be had that I haven’t found selling against radio difficult. It’s just going out and looking for worms under rocks every day.
You don’t subscribe to Nielsen in all of your markets. How do you compete with the groups that do have those numbers?
We do subscribe in Orlando and Ocala. We don’t subscribe in Long Island. The reason, quite frankly, it is not a good measurement. I have five Class A signals, in Suffolk County. Mathematically I’ll never have good ratings because the island is 138 miles long and no one station carries the island. For me, to spend the money on a survey that is not measuring me accurately won’t work. So in Long Island, we sell with results. We get our clients results. We don’t go in and ask what their budget is, we ask what their goals are. How many cars do they need to move? How many students do they need to enroll this year? What do you need to do and how are we going to get you there using all of our resources? Ratings have never been questioned in Long Island, they have never been an issue when we make a sale.
In Orlando, we needed to buy it. We are competing with too much regional and agency business that doesn’t understand the marketplace and just looks at a ranker. So we needed to make that purchase in Orlando. And in Ocala it’s the same thing.
The company is a proponent of using FM translators. How has that helped the growth of the group?
We have a translator in Orlando and one in Long Island. In Long Island, because of the geography that we cover in Suffolk County, the translator does very well. It’s very effective in doing a niche format and selling it as a station. In Orlando, because it’s such a big market, we really had to regionalize the signal and go very local with it. I think if it’s not abused, and it could be abused, and the FCC monitors it, it is a good use of spectrum.
Bud 94.1 is your HD-fed translator classic rocker in Orlando, which launched very tongue-in-cheek. How has the market response been?
The guys down there came up with this concept and it’s just a goofy, off-the-wall radio station that doesn’t take any prisoners. It’s cutting edge. The fun thing about is that it is so tongue-in-cheek and it is so special that people really want to tune in and they want to hear it. We are getting a very good response to that radio station. It’s fun local radio.
How important is being live and local for the company?
It’s extremely important that there’s somebody at the front desk when you walk in or that you don’t get voicemail when you call. You can speak to an account executive when you want to. There’s a jock on the air that is talking to the listener, not just reading liner cards. Our jocks have personality and communicate to the listeners as their friend. There are many more ways that social media allows you to communicate as an air talent. Why not let them be personalities and let them be live and let them be local and let them get involved in community activities and charitable events? It’s one of the backbones of what makes radio great, being live and local.
Tell us about the company’s event division.
Long Island Events is a separate company. It runs a 7,000 seat outdoor venue in Long Island. We do everything from concessions to ticket sales to sponsorship sales to naming rights and we are bringing in some big level talent. We work with not just our own radio group, but with every radio group. We are a good media buyer and a good customer at Long Island Events. What really started as doing NTR developed into a separate company that creates and produces events. We’ll do about 300 live events a year, from car shows to festivals.
What are the company’s plans for future growth?
We are very lucky that our private equity group believes in radio and they want to see us grow. Right now, it’s looking for that right opportunity. Whether that is near us on Long Island or is in another state or market… or maybe we add on to something that we have. Right now I am focused on operating and keeping the stations profitable. Keeping our bank and private equity happy. I just want to operate right now and keep my eyes open for that next good opportunity.
How is business for JVC Media so far this year?
We are off to a great start in the first quarter. We actually came off a really good fourth quarter. 2017 was a little tough in the second quarter, but we rebounded nicely and we kept the momentum going. I always worry when you turn that calendar from one year to the next that something is going to change, people are going to get a different mindset and business isn’t going to stay as strong as it was in fourth quarter, but it did. So I’m really happy about that.
Our 2018 is going to be good if we do very well on these elections. It’s those local races that really involve the community where we do really well. I think we are going to have a great year in political dollars. I see our company definitely up in the low single digits above last year, which is fantastic. I think the industry has learned to embrace digital and to work with digital so we are going to see some growth in that area as well. We do real well in NTR. I’m excited about ‘18, I think it’s going to be a good year.